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Medill reports that Wal-Mart plans to open 400 retail health clinics inside the walls of their retail stores (and mere feet away from their retail pharmacies) by the year 2010.  While the retail clinics fill a need in primary care due to a primary care physician shortage, there are potential conflicts of interest and other pitfalls that exist to the practice of healthcare in retail establishments.

Wal-Mart joins fellow retailers Target, CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens in the outpatient medical services industry, a trend that could shape how Americans get health care.

Rather than wait hours to see a doctor or make an expensive trip to the emergency room, patients can now walk in to clinics without an appointment for treatment of minor illnesses like strep throat, colds and flu.  Don’t expect to see medical degrees on the examining room wall, though; In-store clinics in retail locations are typically staffed exclusively by nurse practitioners.

Prices are set for treatments and are in most locations displayed prominently, so patients know in advance how much services will cost.  In-store clinics also accept most health insurance coverage plans, such as Blue Cross and Aetna.  Most conveniently for the patient, and profitable for the retailer, the pharmacy counter is just a few feet away to fill any prescriptions. 

It’s an effective business strategy for companies that made fortunes selling remedies to now move into diagnosing ailments.  Upfront fees and low-cost alternatives to doctor’s offices and hospitals may appeal to a large portion of Americans, particularly those who lack adequate health insurance.