Wal-Mart to Enter Electronic Medical Records Arena
March 11, 2009 - 1:31 PMAs the Obama administration begins investing billions in health information technology, Wal-Mart plans to use its unrivaled size to bring high-tech medical records to U.S. physicians.
In recent years Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has used its buying power to move into health care markets, negotiating steep discounts for prescription drugs and eye care products.
With the government providing $17 billion of stimulus funding to encourage use of electronic medical records, the company sees an opportunity to serve as a low-cost, one-stop option for single doctors and small practices.
A Wal-Mart spokesperson said Wednesday the company is partnering with computer giant Dell Inc. and software maker eClinicalWorks to launch a bundled electronic health records package for doctors, including installation and maintenance.
The program will be offered through the company's Sam's Club discount-warehouse division, which caters to small businesses. A formal launch is expected this spring.
"Because of our volume, our size and our relationships we can leverage what we do for our members every day into this service," said spokesperson Susan Koehler, in a telephone interview from the company's Bentonville, Ark., headquarters.
Improving the nation's health information technology has been a rallying cry in Washington for years. Advocates say replacing paper files could reduce costly medical errors and duplicative testing. But after nearly a decade of promotion, there have been few gains to show for the technology.
Less than 20 percent of the U.S. physicians use electronic medical records, and many complain about the upfront costs of going digital and the daunting technological hurdles for small businesses.
Consulting group Avalere Health said this week it would cost about $124,000 for a single doctor to upgrade to electronic health records over five years.
Wal-Mart believes it could shave somewhere between 30 and 50 percent off that figure, putting the price closer to $44,000, the maximum in incentive payments available to single-practice physicians.
"We will streamline the process and be a single point of contact for them," Koehler said
Under the plan, Dell will provide computers and other hardware while eClinicalWorks will provide and install the software. Wal-Mart's role will be to coordinate the process.
The Obama stimulus package will pay out $17 billion in incentives beginning in fiscal 2011 to spur adoption of electronic medical records by doctors and hospitals. Those payments will gradually taper off through 2015 and then become penalties for those not using the technology.
Investor's expectations for the plan have lifted shares of companies like Cerner Corp., the leader in hospital-installed electronic records, in recent months. Other companies poised to benefit include McKesson Eclipsys Corp. and Allscripts-Misys Healthcare Solutions Inc.
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