Emily Singer

A View from Emily Singer

Wal-Mart to Sell Electronic Health Record Systems

The superstore may improve access for small private practices.

  • March 11, 2009

Whether it’s GPS devices or salted caramels, you know a product has gone mainstream when it hits Wal-Mart’s shelves. The New York Times reports that the mega-retailer will soon enter the electronic health record (EHR) market, selling “a package deal of hardware, software, installation, maintenance and training [that] will make the technology more accessible and affordable, undercutting rival health information technology suppliers by as much as half.”

“We’re a high-volume, low-cost company,” Marcus Osborne, senior director for health-care business development at Wal-Mart, told the Times. “And I would argue that mentality is sorely lacking in the health care industry.” The company aims to target small private practices, which have the lowest rates of EHR use.

The market for EHRs is likely to see a huge surge, thanks to $19 billion from the recently approved stimulus bill dedicated to improving the adoption and use of health-care information technology. The bulk of the stimulus funds will go toward incentives in the form of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for physicians and hospitals that use electronic systems.

The EHR package comes out of a collaboration between Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club division, Dell computers, and eClinicalWorks, a Massachusetts-based company that has provided software and technical support for two large EHR implementation projects.

According to the Times,

The Sam’s Club offering, to be made available this spring, will be under $25,000 for the first physician in a practice, and about $10,000 for each additional doctor. After the installation and training, continuing annual costs for maintenance and support will be $4,000 to $6,500 a year, the company estimates …

In the package, Dell is offering either a desktop or a tablet personal computer. Many physicians prefer tablet PCs because they more closely resemble their familiar paper notepads and make for easier communication with the patient, since the doctor is not behind a desktop screen.

EClinicalWorks, which is used by 25,000 physicians, mostly in small practices, will provide the electronic record and practice management software, for billing and patient registration, as a service over the Internet. This “software as a service” model can trim costs considerably and make technical support and maintenance less complicated, because less software resides on the personal computer in a doctor’s office.

Dell will be responsible for installation of the computers, while eClinicalWorks will handle software installation, training and maintenance. Wal-Mart is using its buying power for discounts on both the hardware and software.

Wal-Mart’s role, according to Mr. Osborne, is to put the bundle of technology into an affordable and accessible offering. “We’re the systems integrator, an aggregator,” he said.

The company’s test bed for the technology it will soon offer physicians has been its own health care clinics, staffed by third-party physicians and nurses. Started in September 2006, 30 such clinics are now in stores in eight states. The clinics use the technology Wal-Mart will offer to physicians.

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