Wal-Mart to sell EMRs to U.S. physicians
Wal-Mart Stores plans to offer
electronic medical records to American doctors, concentrating on
bringing EMRs to small offices, where most U.S. physicians practice
Wal-Mart’s initiative comes as the Obama administration in Washington is
trying to jump-start the adoption of digital medical records with $19
billion of incentives in the economic stimulus package.
According to a report in the New York Times, Wal-Mart plans to ally its
Sam’s Club division with Dell for computers and eClinicalWorks, a
fast-growing private company, for software. Wal-Mart says its package
deal of hardware, software, installation, maintenance and training will
make the technology more accessible and affordable, undercutting rival
health information technology suppliers by as much as half.
“We’re a high-volume, low-cost company,” said Marcus Osborne, senior
director for healthcare business development at Wal-Mart. “And I would
argue that mentality is sorely lacking in the healthcare industry.”
The Sam’s Club offering, to be made available this spring, will be under
US$25,000 for the first physician in a practice, and about US$10,000 for
each additional doctor. After the installation and training, continuing
annual costs for maintenance and support will be US$4,000 to US$6,500 a
year, the company estimates.
Wal-Mart says it had explored the opportunity in health information
technology long before the presidential election. About 200,000
healthcare providers, mostly doctors, are among Sam Club’s 47 million
members. And the company’s research showed the technology was becoming
less costly and interest was rising among small physician practices,
according to Todd Matherly, vice president for health and wellness at
The financial incentives in the U.S. administration plan – more than
$40,000 per physician over a few years, to install and use electronic
health records – could accelerate adoption. When used properly, most
health experts agree, digital records can curb costs and improve care.
Only about 17 percent of the nation’s physicians are currently using
computerized patient records, according to a government-sponsored survey
published last year in The New England Journal of Medicine. The use of
electronic health records is widespread in large physician groups, but
three-fourths of the nation’s doctors work in small practices of 10
physicians or fewer.
Wal-Mart, however, has the potential to bring not only lower costs but
also an efficient distribution channel to cater to small physician
groups. Traditional health technology suppliers, experts say, have
tended to shun the small physician offices because it has been costly to
sell to them. Taken together, they make up a large market, but they are
“If Wal-Mart is successful, this could be a game-changer,” observed Dr.
David J. Brailer, former national coordinator for health information
technology in the Bush administration.
In the package, Dell is offering either a desktop or a tablet personal
computer. Many physicians prefer tablet PCs because they more closely
resemble their familiar paper notepads and make for easier communication
with the patient, since the doctor is not behind a desktop screen.
EClinicalWorks, which is used by 25,000 physicians, mostly in small
practices, will provide the electronic record and practice management
software, for billing and patient registration, as a service over the
Internet. This “software as a service” model can trim costs considerably
and make technical support and maintenance less complicated, because
less software resides on the personal computer in a doctor’s office.
Dell will be responsible for installation of the computers, while
eClinicalWorks will handle software installation, training and
maintenance. Wal-Mart is using its buying power for discounts on both
the hardware and software. Wal-Mart’s role, according to Mr. Osborne, is
to put the bundle of technology into an affordable and accessible
offering. “We’re the systems integrator, an aggregator,” he said.
The company’s test bed for the technology it will soon offer physicians
has been its own healthcare clinics, staffed by third-party physicians
and nurses. Started in September 2006, 30 such clinics are now in stores
in eight states. The clinics use the technology Wal-Mart will offer to
physicians. “That’s where the learning came from, and they were the
kernel of this idea,” Mr. Osborne said.