“We’re a high-volume, low-cost company,” Marcus Osborne, Wal-Mart’s senior director for health care business development, told the New York Times. “And I would argue that mentality is sorely lacking in the health care industry.”
The company’s Sam’s Club division will partner with Dell computers and the software company EClinicalWorks to offer the service.
The move comes as the Obama administration has been encouraging doctors to switch to digital record keeping, including $17 billion in incentives in the recently passed stimulus bill.
Advocates say that moving to electronic health records could reduce medical costs and medical errors. But right now, only about 17 percent of physicians use electronic records, according to a survey published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine. Most of those physicians are in large practices, very few are independent practitioners or doctors in small practices.
Digital records have been slow to catch on because doctors face significant up-front costs to make the switch. The healthcare consulting group Avalere Health estimated earlier this week that it would cost a doctor about $124,000 to switch to electronic records, according to the Associated Press.
Wal-Mart plans to slash that figure. It plans to offer its service at about $25,000 for the first doctor in a practice, plus about $10,000 for each additional doctor and $4,000 to $6,000 in yearly maintenance costs, according to the New York Times.
The $17 billion in financial incentives in the stimulus plan would cover much of that — offering a maximum $44,000 in incentive payments over several years to single-practice doctors.
Dell will provide the computer systems under the plan, and EClinicalWorks will provide software installation. Wal-Mart has been testing the system in its own in-store clinics in eight states.
Wal-Mart also offers hundreds of prescriptions and other over-the-counter items for $4 or less, a move that forced other retailers and stand-alone pharmacies to offer similar discounts.
“If Wal-Mart is successful, this could be a game-changer,” David J. Brailer, former national coordinator for health information technology in the Bush Administration, told the Times.