Walmart pharmacists now treating some ailments in stores

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 2,267 views 

Residents in Arkansas and 11 other states could see a Walmart pharmacist to diagnose and treat common ailments like strep and the flu without having to see a doctor.

Walmart is launching a new program in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Washington, that allows pharmacists to test and treat people for common illnesses. The new “Testing and Treatment” program lets pharmacists test customers for strep throat, the flu and COVID-19, and then offer in-store treatment options.

“A flu test may lead to a prescription for Tamiflu, or a sore throat could be calmed by tea and chicken noodle soup,” Walmart said in a statement. “Either way, it’s only aisles away. Our pharmacies are ready to be more than your second or third stop on the path to getting better—they can be your only stop.”

Consumers can walk in for testing or they can schedule an appointment via Walmart’s app. The retailer said all tests offer results in about 15 minutes. The cost for the test and treatment service is $133 cash. Walmart said it is not set up to accept third-party insurance payments for the program.

“If we learned anything in 2020 and the years that followed, it’s that testing and detection of curable illnesses can help save lives and bolster community health,” Walmart said. “And with flu season on the horizon and COVID-19 cases forever fluctuating, we believe Testing and Treatment could hardly come at a better time.”

Walmart pharmacists have taken on expanded roles since the pandemic by providing immunizations and testing and this program is a natural extension of those services, according to the retailer. Walmart said its pharmacist will contact those who are prescribed treatment within 72 hours to follow up.

The expanded pharmacist role is part of Walmart’s effort to tap into the health care business. Since 2019 and the launch of Walmart Health clinics, the retail giant has opened more than 40 clinics that provide primary and urgent care, labs, x-ray and diagnostics, behavioral health, dental optometry and hearing services. Walmart plans to nearly double the number of clinics it runs by the end of next year. Walmart operates clinics in Fort Smith, Rogers and Springdale.

Walmart operates 4,600 pharmacies in stores across the U.S. and 4,000 of them are located in medically underserved areas, according to Dr. Soujanya Pulluru, vice president of clinical operations and virtual health services at Walmart. Pulluru said the pandemic brought to light the full potential for virtual care and expanded the scope of care offered by pharmacists and other practitioners given the growing shortage of physicians. She said 40,000 physicians left their practices in 2020 and many areas still struggle to have enough doctors delivering primary care.

Walmart also offers virtual health care through its clinics. In May of last year, Walmart acquired telehealth provider MeMD and rebranded the service as Walmart Virtual Health Care providing telehealth services for medical and behavioral care. Pulluru also oversees Walmart’s virtual care services which she sees as complementary to in-clinic and expanded pharmacy services.