Continuing a flurry of recent moves by mega retailers to expand their virtual care services, Walmart has agreed to buy multispecialty telehealth provider MeMD. The move will allow Walmart to provide virtual care across the nation, including urgent care, behavioral health and primary care.
Walmart already has teamed with telehealth companies like Doctor on Demand, 98point6 and the direct-to-consumer app Ro to provide virtual care to its 1.6 million employees, but this is the first time it has bought a company that is providing services to patients outside Walmart’s employee population. It also bears watching how this purchase may impact Walmart’s existing partnerships.
This much is clear. Walmart intends to grow market share in what has rapidly become a crowded field of retail telehealth service providers.
The news comes on the heels of Amazon’s recent expansion of telehealth services into all 50 states through its Amazon Care program, which until recently only served its employees in select regions. The company now plans to offer those services not only to all Amazon employees, but also to other companies. Meanwhile, CVS Health and Walgreens have been expanding their virtual care services.
Will the Telehealth Boom Continue?
While large retailers are betting on continued growth in virtual care, these moves come at a time when virtual care visits may have peaked at least for the near future. Recent data from Fair Health show that telehealth use by commercially insured patients decreased 16% from January to February, the first drop since last September, suggesting the telehealth market may be softening as more Americans become vaccinated and COVID 19 cases and deaths continue to decline.
Walmart’s MeMD acquisition, which still has to be approved by regulators, also should be viewed in the larger context of its overall health strategy. Walmart steadily has ramped up its care delivery services, opening HealthHUBs at 650 of its stores with plans to grow that number to 1,500 by the end of this year. Walmart also operates about 20 primary care clinics and has partnered with Oak Street Health, a managed care medical network, to bring some of its clinics to several Walmart Supercenters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Walmart, like other retailers expanding into health care, often quickly scales programs like these if they prove to be successful with consumers.