Sam’s Club testing ways to deliver health care, NWA aims to be health center of excellence

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 297 views 

Sam’s Club and its parent company Wal-Mart Stores has a strategy to continue to disrupt the health care arena. From the $4 generic prescription the retailer introduced a decade ago to the 18 health care clinics inside Walmart Stores and 486 hearing aid centers in Sam’s Clubs, there is still more the retail giant hopes to do.

Jill Turner-Mitchael, senior vice president overseeing health and wellness for Sam’s Club, said Sam’s Club and Walmart have already become known for their health screenings and immunizations but that isn’t enough. Mitchael was the keynote speaker at the Northwest Arkansas Council’s Health Care Summit in Rogers on Wednesday (April 6).

She said the health care clinics that Walmart opened in 2014 are proving to be a cost-effective way to provide acute and chronic medical care to the communities it serves. She said the $4 office visit for employees and $59 cost for the general public offer substantial savings over traditional clinic visits. The labs and diagnostic services are 25% cheaper than traditional plans, which is why the retailer plans to expand its health care clinic footprint over the next few years.

Sam’s Club business members report a 7% to 15% savings on their health care insurance costs when they utilize the retailer’s private health care exchange which was unveiled in 2014 in collaboration with Aetna. Mitchael said Aetna was the only plan available in year one, but now there are several new plan options curated specifically for Sam’s Club members.

“We believe that consumers are going to want their health care delivered to them anywhere, anyway and any how they choose. Technology will help to facilitate this in the coming years. It’s already happening,” she said.

At the consumer electronics trade show in Las Vegas there were dozens of companies touting technology designed to track and detect body functions and applications, Mitchael said. One was Opternative, a product that will perform typical eye exams online, and email a prescription all for the cost of $40.

“This could be a big disruption in the cost of eye care treatment in the future,” she said.

Mitchael said Sam’s Club is moving ahead with several new healthcare tests because 10,000 American’s turn 65 each day which will create more demand in the next few years on the health care industry.

One area Sam’s is working on is to become a destination for caregivers. She said there are 66 million caregivers in the U.S. and 73% of them are employed. The average age is 48 and they are mostly women. Sam’s Club has a website for caregivers to be a one-stop destination where they can find information on everything from stress management to shopping for specific products that facilitate care such as lift chairs to getting automatic prescription refills to save time. Mitchael said the site is functional but is continually be upgraded to include more information specifically for caregivers.

“We are also looking at adding dietitians to our clubs this year. We know it will drive loyalty to our company and will drive grocery sales. But we have no idea exactly how to quantify that. We will figure it out over the next few months,” Mitchael said.

She said Sam’s Club is focusing on healthier living and dietitians are part of the plan. Mitchael said she believes Northwest Arkansas can become a health care center of excellence but it’s going to take lots of work to get there. She said there are already pillars in place like the University of Arkansas, a wide network of health care providers, a growing economy, a growing population, large employers, and charitable foundations embracing the value of quality of life and healthy living in the region.

But Mitchael said it takes more than that. She said legislators have to make Arkansas competitive with neighboring states in terms of tax incentives. She said the region needs a task force dedicated to health care sector growth which includes stakeholders from all sides.

“The gaps must identified but then we have to be bold and run after them. Do something different if the region is to become a health care center for excellence,” she said.

The health care professionals and industry stakeholders spent two hours at the summit in meetings to discuss specific ways the region might proceed to become a health care center for excellence. Two main threads ran through those discussions, one being the special task force, Mitchael mentioned. Community health was the other idea emerging from the discussions – focusing on healthy living as opposed health care delivery. This would include personal accountability in the region to provide access to primary care, healthy food and affordable housing. The groups also want to see more information shared across networks statewide as well as streamlining resources where possible. In other words identity the gaps and eliminate duplicity where possible.

Mike Malone, president of the Northwest Arkansas Council, said the Council would take on the challenge and gather a task force of stakeholders dedicated to helping the region become a center of excellence for health care.

“I am reminded of the first time the Council unveiled its 10-year economic growth plan in 2011. … I was told then it was the end of the beginning which is where we are today,” Malone said. “Today’s discussions were an important first step toward this goal.”