Oct. 3, 2019
By Elizabeth Walker, Walmart Corporate Affairs
Health care is hard.
That’s the easiest way Lisa Woods, Walmart’s senior director of U.S. benefits, can sum it up.
From choosing a doctor and trying to get in for an appointment, to understanding medical bills, making sense of the American medical system can sometimes create as much stress as the issue needing care in the first place. Lack of clarity and transparency can often result in unnecessary procedures, wasting time and money and putting patients at risk for complications.
As the nation’s largest private employer, Walmart is in a unique position to help address these issues. More than 1 million Americans – associates and their families – get their medical benefits through Walmart, which gives the company a clear opportunity to offer simpler, quality solutions to a big portion of the country.
Woods has seen how the company’s Centers of Excellence program has changed lives by connecting associates with top specialists for certain serious medical conditions and procedures, giving them easy access to the best, most appropriate care possible and helping avoid misdiagnoses. For example, of the Centers of Excellence patients who were initially told they needed a spine surgery, more than half discovered they didn’t actually need surgery. They received a different treatment plan, recovered quicker, avoided a surgery they didn’t need and saved a lot of unnecessary costs.
“Associates came back saying, ‘I didn’t know health care could look like this,’” Woods said. “They asked us to bring the same transparency, effectiveness and quality of care to their communities.”
So, Walmart listened. And here’s what’s next. For the company’s 2020 medical plan, Woods’ team is trying some new concepts in select markets, and she is optimistic that these new options can change the health care landscape for associates and their families the same way Centers of Excellence did.
In Northwest Arkansas, Orlando/Tampa and Dallas/Fort Worth, Walmart will be testing Featured Providers, a program that helps connect patients with local doctors who have a demonstrated history of providing the most appropriate patient care. Rather than relying on word of mouth or social media to find a provider, patients can get information based on actual data and proven results. Featured Providers is powered by Embold Health, which synthesizes a large amount of data from public and private insurance programs to create reports on individual physicians. This data will help take the guesswork out of finding an affordable, quality local provider in eight specialties: primary care, cardiology, gastroenterology, endocrinology, obstetrics, oncology, orthopedics and pulmonology. Walmart will use this data to curate a group of physicians with a track record of providing consistent quality care and then provide that to associates so they can make more informed decisions regarding their care.
Woods’ team knows associates have busy lives and don’t always have time to play phone tag with doctors’ offices. In North Carolina and South Carolina, the company will be testing the Personal Healthcare Assistant, a resource that aims to simplify the health system. The service, a type of concierge built to add transparency into what has historically been an opaque process, works via a website, phone number, and app. Associates can use Healthcare Assistant to address a variety of health needs, starting with billing and appointments, but also finding a quality provider, understanding a diagnosis and addressing other complex questions. The assistant will also help with peripheral needs, such as coordinating transportation and finding child care during appointments.
In Colorado, Minnesota and Wisconsin, Walmart is expanding its telehealth offering to include preventive health, chronic care management, urgent care, and behavioral health for associates. Through this voluntary program, patients can video chat with a doctor from the comfort of their homes, and, if they choose, access a personal online doctor (think virtual primary care physician) and an entire team to coordinate specialty care, provide nutritional and diabetic counseling and coordinate behavioral health referrals and visits. All video visits are $4. Associates can book an appointment with a primary care physician within one hour and a behavioral health visit within one week. This is the result of Walmart bringing together incumbent partners Doctor On Demand, Grand Rounds and HealthSCOPE Benefits to create a new service.
With thousands of stores, distribution centers and offices across America, Walmart’s associate population is diverse and varied. With that in mind, Woods says trying a variety of approaches helps her team see what will work best at Walmart’s scale. This comes from a belief that once the quality is right, the cost savings will come along with it, both for the company and for associates.
And the ripple effects go beyond just Walmart.
“If we get this right,” Woods said, “we can raise the tide for all health care.”