Walmart on Thursday announced it plans to acquire MeMD, a multispeciality telehealth provider, in a move that will allow the company to grow its virtual care delivery nationwide.
MeMD has provided medical and mental health services to consumers online since 2010. The company will serve as a feature of Walmart Health centers nationwide, in addition to in-person care. As a result, Walmart Health will be able to include urgent, behavioral and primary care to its list of virtual services.
"Today people expect omnichannel access to care and adding telehealth to our Walmart Health care strategies allows us to provide in-person and digital care," said Dr. Cheryl Pegus, executive vice president of Walmart Health & Wellness.
Other major retailers like Amazon have made similar pushes into the telehealth sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts say the purchase of MeMD falls in line with healthcare's trend toward retail-based care delivery.
"If we look at how the healthcare industry has shifted recently, it's consumer centric. Which means having to bring healthcare to the consumer," said Arielle Trzcinski, who focuses on the healthcare industry as a senior analyst for Forrester Research. "So retail stores set Walmart up in terms of cost, but not in increasing access to care."
Trzcinski said MeMD will help keep costs of care low and improve Walmart Health's convenience for consumers through online services.
Rather than competing with Amazon or Teladoc in the telemedicine market, she said CVS and Walgreens are using similar approaches to retail-based care, though currently their services are more extensive than Walmart's.
"I think that's the direction Walmart is trying to head in," Trzcinski said.
The planned acquisition comes after other moves by Walmart to build a telehealth infrastructure. In July, Walmart purchased the intellectual property behind CareZone, a medication management startup. The CareZone technology and team intended to "augment current health & wellness capabilities," according to a blog post announcing the deal.
At the time, Walmart had already created an app for consumers to manage their pharmacy prescriptions and opened a set of primary-care centers in Georgia called Walmart Health, where prices were 30% to 50% lower than what consumers paid for doctor and dentist visits last year.
Trzcinski says 41% of consumers in 2020 went to telehealth services for their primary-care needs and this year that number has doubled. According to American Journal of Managed Care, this growth is not a new phenomenon, with telehealth use among consumers increasing by 12% and retail-based telehealth increasing by 10% from 2017 through 2018.