Are Amazon, Walmart, CVS & Dollar Store Taking Over Healthcare?

Dr. Maheu, Telehealth.org

August 2021

Amazon, Walmart, CVS, and Dollar General are making notable strides toward increasing their healthcare footprints, positioning themselves to create a seismic shift in healthcare. Telehealth.org has been reporting such efforts for the last several years, and this week offers you an update on the latest developments on amazon care, Walmart care clinic, CVS health, and Dollar General.

Amazon Care

Introduced in 2019, Amazon Care launched a pilot study for employees in Seattle, quickly followed by an expansion into Washington State. Amazon Care is now expanding nationwide. In addition to developing connections with other companies, the service appears most focused on expanding into underserved rural areas. The pivotal issue to consider as Amazon grows its healthcare footprint is that Amazon currently dominates two digital areas lacking in the industry: optimizing the delivery of digital customer experiences and excelling at the automation of services.

Walmart Care Clinic

In 2019, Walmart announced the first of its many health centers, called Walmart Care Clinic, with these offerings: primary care, labs, X-ray and EKG, counseling, dental, optical, hearing, community health (nutritional services, fitness), and health insurance education as well as enrollment, in a growing number of their facilities.

Walmart has since been keeping itself involved in telehealth developments through mergers and acquisitions. Walmart, the largest in-person retail company in the United States, recently purchased MeMD, described as an “on-demand, multispecialty telehealth provider.” As a complementary addition to the already existing Walmart health centers, MeMD will enable Walmart to provide digital behavioral, primary, and urgent care services.

Walmart has also begun a collaboration with Ro, a pharmacy services telehealth app. The relationship will also Ro to sell its health and wellness products in Walmart locations while further increasing Walmart’s digital service offerings.

CVS Health

Although CVS and Walmart had previously worked together to deliver care through Walmart’s pharmacies, CVS Health announced in January 2019 that Walmart opted to leave the CVS Caremark pharmacy benefit management commercial and Managed Medicaid retail pharmacy networks. That same year, CVS purchased Aetna for $69 billion in cash and stock. The merger brought one of the largest providers of pharmacy services together with the third-largest US-based health insurer. The successful merger formed a healthcare giant with more than $245 billion in annual revenue.

Since then, CVS Health has steadily grown its healthcare footprint and, just last week launched a new health care benefit called Aetna Virtual Primary Care. The announcement reads:

Offered through the CVS Health Aetna medical insurance subsidiary, Aetna Virtual Primary Care offers members access to a diverse panel of board-certified physicians and coordinated care from a consistent team of specialists based on their health needs. Members will have a continuous relationship with a virtual care physician, beginning from their first 30-45 minute comprehensive primary care visit and extending to every visit thereafter.

Existing Aetna virtual care offerings include mental health counseling, dermatology services, and 24/7 urgent care. Dan Finke, executive VP, CVS Health, and President, Aetna, explained, “The future of digital health solutions is rapidly unfolding.” He added, “Aetna Virtual Primary Care is a first-of-its-kind health care solution that provides a simple, affordable, convenient way for eligible members to receive quality primary care from a physician-led care team that knows them and is accessible from virtually anywhere.” As described in his profile, Mr. Finke “is passionate about addressing mental health stigma. He is also deeply committed to attaining health equity for all Americans by engaging public and private stakeholders to address social determinants of health through analytics-based approaches that offer new insight and opportunities into health care disparities.”

Dollar General

Dollar General is a smaller company, but it has an enviable foothold in rural America. Their stores are well known and trusted. Therefore, they can offer care to patients who live in areas where primary care, behavioral and other specialists are difficult to access.

While analysts doubt that Dollar General would follow Walmart’s lead and build primary-care clinics, telehealth solutions are easily within their reach. Dollar General differs from Amazon due to limited floor space, small parking lots, leased rather than owned retail space, and a lack of infrastructure for filling prescriptions. However, these limited abilities did not prevent Dollar General from serving as a site for COVID-19 testing in some states. Dollar General has already partnered with Higi, a blood-pressure machine company that can be seen in some Dollar general stores. Babylon Health is a telehealth provider that has invested in Higi. Given its rural presence, Dollar General may be positioning itself for acquisition by one of the larger publicly traded telehealth companies. In July 2021, the company issued a press released stating:

With 75% of the U.S. population living within approximately five miles of one of Dollar General’s 17,000+ stores, the Company recognizes the unique access it provides to rural communities often underserved by other retailers as well as the existing healthcare ecosystem. The Company’s commitment to expanding its health offerings is underpinned by its existing infrastructure, robust supply chain, and current complementary health and nutrition assortment.