LAS VEGAS—The team at retail giant Walmart didn't realize how fortuitous a virtual primary care pilot would prove to be when it launched in January 2020.
The company, which is the largest employer in the U.S., tapped Included Health to launch a virtual primary care option for employees in select states, including a $0 copayment for virtual care visits. The results were strong enough that in 2022, Walmart expanded the offering further and adding an option for specialty consults.
Now, the company is taking that offering nationwide for its associates, Walmart announced at HLTH on Tuesday.
Lisa Woods, vice president of well-being at Walmart, said during a session at the conference that as the company saw its customers adapt to the new normal under COVID-19, the retailer's employees began to expect the same convenient, quality experience in their benefits and care.
"They wanted to save time, and they were spending more time at home," she said.
Woods said employees can access services beyond primary care as well, including virtual physical therapy and digestive health. Beginning Jan. 1, workers will be able to access basic lab services from their homes, she said.
During the session, Woods and Included Health CEO Owen Tripp offered a look at some of the results the virtual care collaboration has produced to date. Employees with diabetes, for example, saw a 24% reduction on average in HbA1c levels.
People with hypertension saw blood pressure reduced by 14%, and total cost of care decreased by 11%.
The pilot's results to date also dispel a number of myths about virtual care that may make employers hesitant, Tripp said. For one, it's easy to assume that most people who would take advantage of such an offering are younger. However, they found that 33% of those who used the services were over the age of 45.
The average age for Walmart associates is 39, Woods said, so the platform was reaching both that age group and people older than them.
In addition, they saw success in connecting to patients with chronic needs. About 30% of people were seen for either chronic condition management or preventive care.
And, only about 10% of those who were treated in a virtual setting went on to then seek care in a brick-and-mortar setting within 21 days of the appointment.
Walmart also saw a 26% reduction in hospital readmissions among people who used the virtual primary care platform as well as a 38% reduction in inpatient hospital costs on a cohort basis, Tripp said.
"This is the power of engaging people to personalize primary care at scale," he said.