Walmart is going all in on 24/7/365 telehealth

Photo: Walmart
May 07, 2021

Walmart announced yesterday that it has acquired MeMD, a telehealth company offering nationwide virtual medical and mental healthcare services. The move is just the latest in a series of steps that the retailing giant has taken to become a player of significance in the market.

The move will enable Walmart in the months to come the ability to offer virtual care across the country and serve as a complement to the company’s in-person Walmart Health centers. The move is intended to increase lower cost access for the chain’s associates and customers in keeping with Walmart’s strategic branding mission.

“Today people expect omnichannel access to care, and adding telehealth to our Walmart Health care strategies allows us to provide in-person and digital care across our multiple assets and solutions,” Dr. Cheryl Pegus, executive vice president, Health & Wellness for Walmart, said in a statement. “Our Health & Wellness mission is to focus on the consumer’s seamless experience and improved health.”

MeMD was founded in 2010 by Dr. John Shufeldt to provide virtual care nationwide 24/7/365. The company provides medical and mental healthcare visits to millions of members nationwide.

“We’ve achieved incredible strides in making health care available to individuals and businesses around the country through our easy, affordable and intuitive online platform. We can’t imagine a better partner than Walmart as we are both committed to innovative healthcare delivery and bringing affordable, high-quality care to as many people as possible,” said MeMD CEO Bill Goodwin. “MeMD’s mission fits perfectly with Walmart’s dedicated focus to help people save money and live better.”

The deal with MeMD is expected to put Walmart in a position to compete with other retailers including, CVS, Kroger, Rite Aid and Walgreens that are all offering on location or telehealth options for their customers.

Walgreens announced a deal last summer with VillageMD to open between 500 and 700 primary care doctor’s offices in its stores over the next five years. The clinics known as “Village Medical at Walgreens” will occupy between 3,300- and 9,000-square-feet depending on the store location.

CVS, which has been among the most aggressive movers in this space with its MinuteClinic in-store clinics, announced that it was expanding a pilot program offering mental health and counseling services from 17 locations to 34 in July.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see healthcare operations becoming a more important element in the sales and profit growth of retailers in the years ahead? What will Walmart’s acquisition of MeMD mean for the retailer and its rivals in the retail healthcare services space?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"If they can apply some of the operational expertise and efficiencies to the immensely inefficient healthcare industry – customers and associates will both win."
"These guys are all trying to create bits and pieces of a “daily life operating system”; retailers with healthcare, Apple with fitness, etc."
"The giant parking lot and extreme store traffic at Walmart will prevent consumers who aren’t existing customers from seeking the company out for healthcare."

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20 Comments on "Walmart is going all in on 24/7/365 telehealth"

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Mark Ryski

Healthcare is an immensely huge market, and one that is being underserved. Offering health services is an excellent extension for many retailers who offer health-related services, including Walmart. Walmart’s acquisition of MeMD is a strong sign that this is a category that they are taking seriously and they’re putting their money where their mouth is.

David Adelman

It is always a good thing when more healthcare is provided in any community, whether in person or virtually. Mental health concerns, in particular, can be accessed very easily through telehealth compared to physical diagnosis.

Anytime a retailer expands its brand to show “compassion and caring ” for its customers, it’s always a good thing. Although Walmart’s acquisition of MeMD will be costly initially, in the long term I believe it will not only pay out in dividends but also in spades!

Carol Spieckerman
Carol Spieckerman
President, Spieckerman Retail
1 year 8 months ago

Telehealth is one of the hottest growth areas going right now and as retailers diversify into health services, telehealth acquisitions logically follow. Walmart is determined to be on the forefront of this movement and is poised to onboard millions of consumers. Just as Walmart has accelerated adoption of click and collect, home delivery, mobile payments, and other innovations, it will do the same for telehealth. The acquisition benefits Walmart’s overall business from a data-gathering perspective and also through direct links to its pharmacies (which in turn drives incremental sales in other categories). The potential to integrate telehealth services into Walmart Plus is a clear opportunity that will allow Walmart to forge deeper relationships, and dependencies, with its customers. This can also be seen as an “acqui-hire” as Walmart will grab a ready-made team of tele-health experts in the deal. Another aggressive diversification play from Walmart.

Suresh Chaganti

I am glad to see the healthcare system is becoming more consumerized. We are getting to know the actual costs of care, and that allows families to budget. This is particularly good given the explosion of gig economy and freelance workers.

Even for regularly employed folks who have it covered by employers, the high deductible plans – as much as $15,000 per year out of pocket before insurance kicks in – are the norm. Telehealth plans like these and minute clinics are a great option.

Long story short, it’s great for patients to have a place to go for urgent care and primary care. Telehealth is a great option.

It is a win for consumers. And it is for Walmart as well.

David Weinand

This is definitely a shot across the bow of CVS, Walgreens and the like. The mega-retailers obviously see an opportunity to profit from the nightmare we call our healthcare system. If they can apply some of the operational expertise and efficiencies to the immensely inefficient healthcare industry – customers and associates will both win.

Oliver Guy
Oliver Guy
Global Industry Architect, Microsoft Retail
1 year 8 months ago

There are potentially huge synergies here. Given the correlations between what we eat and our health their is the opportunity (data protection laws allowing) for potential correlations and targeting of food promotions other small nudges to shoppers.

Irrespective of this, there are other parallels between retail and healthcare – both can benefit hugely from understanding of data (example: Google tracking influenza across the country based on Google searches) but they are also both essential to consumers who need provisions at locations close to population centers.

Walmart clearly can see the direction healthcare is heading and want a slice of the business.

Lisa Goller

Yes, healthcare services strengthen retailers’ ability to profitably serve consumers’ lifestyles. Retailers can gain deeper data insights to personalize marketing for personal care, pharmacy and grocery products – and insurance.

Rivalry will intensify in retail health services as retailers battle for loyal customers to maximize lifetime value per customer.

Gene Detroyer

Every one of the retailers mentioned is looking for growth. In every case their core business is mature as is the U.S. market. Population growth is at best 0.7 percent and falling. A mature economy can not grow beyond about three times population growth. (Actually, three times would be extraordinary.)

Simply put, these companies are looking at growth opportunities. With an aging population and extraordinarily expensive healthcare, this is an obvious target.

Jennifer Bartashus

Retailers recognize that health and wellness is a growth path for them, and have been positioning themselves to help meet this customer need for years. Walmart’s latest move keeps it moving in tandem with how heathcare is evolving, and is a natural extension of the clinics it has been piloting. The acquisition of MeMD squarely competes with Amazon Care but appears to bring greater scale, which could favor Walmart’s growth prospects for now.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

The time has (finally) come for the healthcare industry to transform and retailers are stepping in and up to lead the way. With their store network for traffic and accessibility, e-commerce for delivery, and in many cases trusted relationships with consumers, large chains like CVS, Walmart and Amazon have the ability to capture market share and become preferred providers.

David Naumann

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry accelerated the adoption of telehealth to offer greater access to care, provide more flexibility for providers and patients, improve safety and extend the reach of services available. As more patients use virtual care services, they will appreciate the convenience and may begin to expect it for routine services that can be done just as effectively as a physical visit to a clinic. From a retail health services perspective, telehealth is a value-added service for customers and retailers with health services will likely follow Walmart’s lead.

Dave Wendland

The consumer-driven healthcare ecosystem is largely about access to care. This is a very strong move by Walmart and adds significantly to its health-and-wellness portfolio. Services, such as telehealth, continue to surge (fueled by familiarity gained during the pandemic) and show no sign of slowing down.

Raj B. Shroff

I do see healthcare operations becoming more important. Retailers are looking for long-term revenue streams and we all need to eat and we all need to address our health at some point. Hopefully this access helps the communities which Walmart serves, it’s a critical need.

As for what it means, I think we’ll see more of these ecosystem plays where a retailer is involved in multiple facets of their customers’ lives. And hopefully they can use the information they gain from those interactions for positive things such as more proactive wellness and predictive modeling to prevent certain ailments.

These guys are all trying to create bits and pieces of a “daily life operating system”; retailers with healthcare, Apple with fitness, etc. Will Amazon come in and stitch all these effort together?

Shep Hyken

I feel like I keep repeating myself regarding the way retailers, including Walgreens, CVS, etc., are expanding on their traditional healthcare offerings. The goal is to become more integrated in their customers’ lives. For Walmart’s acquisition of MeMD, it means an opportunity to expand their customer base in the healthcare industry. Competition is good for every industry. It pushes innovation, growth and competing for the customer and can also improve the customer experience.

Mohamed Amer, PhD

Telemedicine earned its chops during the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare is a significant spend category for consumers, and Walmart has already announced that the future model will be the retailer-as-a-service. This latest acquisition is another step in the right direction as the company connects the Walmart brand to more aspects of its customers’ lives.

Ryan Mathews

As Boomers and Xers start navigating their “Golden Years” — so called one supposes because you have to sell your gold to survive them — and the ranks of the uninsured and underinsured continue to grow, the market for affordable, convenient, and on-demand medical services from mental health counseling to questions that today might find their way to Urgent Care clinics can only be expected to expand. So yes, it will be critical to both sales and growth for retailers in several classes of trade. Walmart’s acquisition of MeMD just upped the ante for the rest of the retail community. The market is huge, but ultimately limited. One might shop five stores for food, but it is unlikely consumers will take the same approach to healthcare.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

With the combined increase in the cost of healthcare and the aging of America, this is a terrific opportunity for Walmart to maximize its size, efficiencies, customer profile and marketing expertise. This concept should enhance its brand and standing with current and potential employees in a tight labor market.

Doug Garnett

The issue I don’t agree with here is that consumers are asking for omnichannel health. I’ve not ever heard someone say “I sure wish Walmart/Target/… offered healthcare.” So it’s disappointing the this idea is being used to promote the PR.

Will consumers use it when available? It may depend on the community. In communities where healthcare options are quite limited, I can see it being a good offering by Walmart. But in an area with robust options? I can’t imagine it working well.

Venky Ramesh

The initiative is well aligned to their mission to “save people money so they can live better.” At the same time, more aspects of the customer life retailers are able to engage on, they build better customer intimacy and stronger relationships.

Jasmine Glasheen

Everyone wants to be essential retail nowadays. This is about giving Walgreens a run for their money. But I don’t see Walmart as a potential competitor in the healthcare space unless the company is able to offer small healthcare kiosks that customers can easily drop into.

The giant parking lot and extreme store traffic at Walmart will prevent consumers who aren’t existing customers from seeking the company out for healthcare. On top of this, Walmart doesn’t have the reputation for customer care that Walgreens has built over the years. It’ll take a cohesive marketing strategy to give this one legs.

"If they can apply some of the operational expertise and efficiencies to the immensely inefficient healthcare industry – customers and associates will both win."
"These guys are all trying to create bits and pieces of a “daily life operating system”; retailers with healthcare, Apple with fitness, etc."
"The giant parking lot and extreme store traffic at Walmart will prevent consumers who aren’t existing customers from seeking the company out for healthcare."

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