Walmart, the nation’s leading retailer, expanded into groceries when it developed the superstore concept years ago. Now, Walmart is expanding in Rome with its Care Clinic — a primary healthcare clinic that is part of a nationwide pilot program.

The clinic, set to open Oct. 31 inside West Rome Walmart, 2510 Redmond Circle, will offer a variety of primary care services for Walmart associates as well as customers.

Walmart already has 11 clinics open, including two in Northwest Georgia, in Carrollton and Dalton stores.

Dr. Daniel Stein, director of medical and clinical services for Walmart, said the company is putting the pilot clinics in communities where it has identified a shortage of primary care providers.

“As the nation’s largest employer, with over 1.1 million associates and family members on our health plan, we believe there’s an opportunity to maybe even improve their quality of care and reduce health expenditures for our plan,” Stein said.

“Likewise, with 140 million customers shopping in our stores on a weekly basis, we think there’s an opportunity for us to help them improve their lives by helping them get access to quality affordable care.”

The Care Clinic will be operated by licensed nurse practitioners.

They’ll provide wellness and preventive care services such as health screenings, vaccinations and lab testing. Basic acute care — including diagnosis and treatment of illnesses such as flu and strep throat — also will be offered along with guidance on managing chronic problems such as diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure.

But Dr. Leonard Reeves, assistant dean of the Medical College of Georgia Northwest Campus, voiced some concern about the qualifications of what he called “midlevel” practitioners to operate the clinics.

“The medical care for anything other than minor issues is not at the same level as your family physician,” Reeves said. “I am all for midlevels practicing with physicians. I think that’s a great way to handle it as part of a healthcare team. When we start talking about midlevels working independently, then we get into some iffy situations.”

Reeves, who sits on the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians board of directors, also questioned the location of Walmart clinics — saying the targeted communities don’t have as much of a family doctor shortage as more rural areas in Georgia. He suggested that the decisions might be based more on the economic potential than on serving a need.

“The money is in the bigger cities, which is why that’s where you see a concentration of physicians,” Reeves said.

With the exception of visits with the staffing nurse practitioners, supervising physicians will not  be providing care in the clinic.

QuadMed management

Walmart is working with QuadMed, which will source and manage the nurse practitioners and supervising physicians. The Wisconsin-based company has 20 years of experience creating workplace clinics for employers of various sizes.

Stein said Walmart plans to have 17 clinics open before the end of the year.

“We’re going to take the opportunity to review the pilot and see what our customers and associates think about the clinics before we decide next steps,” Stein said.

A basic diagnostic and management visit to the clinic where customers may spend time with the nurse practitioner will cost $40. Stein said that Walmart associates and customers alike can use the facility for lab service checkups that would only require the drawing of blood.

“You can get a cholesterol panel as well as a hemoglobin (test) for Type 2 diabetes where you pay the price of the lab and don’t have to pay the full office visit,” Stein said.

The doctor said Walmart is committed to meeting or beating industry norms when it comes to pricing for the lab tests.

“Most of the lab services are available for $8, with some of the more expensive clinic care testing at $15,” Stein said.

Stein said that on the customer side, Walmart is particularly interested in serving the uninsured and underinsured as well as Medicaid customers. He said 10 months into implementation of the Affordable Care Act exchanges, “there are still real access challenges.”

Ira Epps, co-manager of the West Rome Walmart, said the Rome clinic will be located in a 1,144-square-foot addition to the store. Most of the others, he noted, were set up in areas that formerly housed banks or vision clinics.

The West Rome facility will feature a reception area, three examination rooms and a lab area.

Hours will be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the week, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

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