Walmart announced Tuesday (Oct. 11) the creation of a research arm and work to address healthcare equity and access for the underserved. The division will work with clinical research organizations, pharmaceutical companies and academic medical centers on the initiative.
The Walmart Healthcare Research Institute (WHRI) is not directly connected to the Whole Health Institute, also based in Bentonville and founded by Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart founders Sam and Helen Walton.
“What we are trying to do is get individuals in the community adequately represented,” said Dr. John Wigneswaren, Walmart’s chief medical officer. “It’s really about health equity and access. We know our customers are interested in participating in healthcare research, but many have not had access until now.”
WHRI will focus on innovative interventions and medications that could help make a difference in underrepresented communities, including older adults, rural residents, women and minority populations. Walmart said it will initially work to be included in studies for chronic conditions and innovative treatment that should include members from underserved communities.
“We know our customers are interested in participating in healthcare research, but many have not had access until now. We are already making an impact for our customers and for medical research by raising patient trust and engagement in their care,” Wigneswaren said.
Walmart said for too long clinical trials have not been representative of the population at large and often recruit participants who live near research centers, have the time and have the financial ability to participate. In 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration data shows that 75% of trial participants were white, 11% were Hispanic, 8% were Black, and 6% were Asian.
The retail giant said it is uniquely positioned to serve a more diverse population with access to the trials and treatment options as 90% of U.S. consumers live within 10 miles of a Walmart store.
Dr. Raymond Samuel, of North Carolina A&T State University, said Walmart’s interest in this project is timely and well-received. Bill Hawkins, board chair at Duke University Health, said the efforts by Walmart in research are innovative and impactful. Samuel and Hawkins were named in the Walmart press release about the program.
“It is clear that the intention behind their foray into this space is to genuinely make a difference for patients of all ages, race and gender in their ability to access research. This initiative will support individual patient health as well as the health of numerous communities home to Walmart stores,” Hawkins said.
Dr. Harlan Krumholz of Yale New Haven Hospital Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, said Walmart is a trusted brand, and by leveraging their research, resources and influence can likely increase greater health equity.