Friday, February 08, 2008

I Love Wal-Mart!

Until now, nothing even remotely resembling commercial advertising has appeared on Unforeseen Contingencies. But it’s time to make an exception. A great breakthrough in affordable health care is underway! Wal-Mart plans to open 400 walk-in clinics in its stores by 2010.

The walk-in clinic concept is an excellent idea. I used to go to one in Great Falls, Montana, the Front Range Medical Center. It was begun by a surgeon, Jake Allen, who was fed up with the local Benefice Hospital and Great Falls Clinic (both bureaucratic monstrosities that battle each other for monopoly rights, and try to drive independent practitioners out of business). He staffed his clinics with M.D.s and nurses who, for one reason or another, were interested in relatively temporary positions. The service was great: fast, friendly, very competent, and notably less expensive than the "mainstream" alternatives. If you needed treatment they couldn't provide, they knew where to send you next. I loved them. I suspect it requires real devotion to customer satisfaction to make the walk-in concept work, and Front Range had it. So does Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart is a place where the poor shop (or maybe the "near poor," in today’s lexicon); these clinics would allow them easy access to low cost, basic medical care, including preventive care. What a great thing! This would do far more to reduce costs and improve access for the poor than any of the inane schemes of the presidential candidates. The article notes that in a pilot run, Wal-Mart found that over half of the customers using the clinic were uninsured. Well, here's a partial solution to that problem: insurance is much less important when basic care is inexpensive and available. Wal-Mart is also launching a line of budget generic pharmaceuticals. They’d probably develop inexpensive health insurance, too, if only government would allow it.

Unfortunately, Wal-Mart is the target of utterly irrational hatred on the part of "consumer" advocates and government officials. Look for them to try to block Wal-Mart’s wonderful project. The Front Range clinics don’t exist any more. Dr. Allen was hounded by the scoundrels at the Great Falls Clinic until he eventually gave up, sold his operations (the GF Clinic has the facilities now), and quit medicine - he’s now in law school. We’ll see how serious "consumer" groups and government officials are about improving access to affordable health care; I’ll bet good money they’ll similarly try to kill Wal-Mart’s project, because their real interest in health care isn't improving health, it's in getting control over the fastest growing sector of the economy for personal power and wealth. They’d happily kill a good project, since it reduces demand for their poisonous remedies. If I’m right, and they succeed, they’ll be killing people along with it, since basic and preventive care demonstrably saves lives.

I love Wal-Mart for doing this. I hope they succeed beyond their wildest dreams, and make big profits in doing so. And I look forward to trying out one of their clinics myself, should the need arise.

Good to see a defense of "doc in the box" enterprises! And if you haven't been to Great Falls lately, you'll probably be sad to know that just last week the Front Range Clinic on 10th Ave South (next to Hardee's) was torn down - not sure what if anything is going to be built on that lot.
Thanks for your comment, David.

I was just in GF, and saw that the Front Range by Marketplace is now an outpost of the GF Clinic.

While I am at it, I should note for readers that despite the unsavory political-business details, Great Falls MT has very good health care professionals who do excellent work. At some point I should write about my personal experiences with post-Soviet health care in Ukraine. The punchline of the story is that after numerous fruitless forays into the best hospitals in the country, I flew to a backwater of the U.S. (GF MT) for successful treatment.

Thanks for your comment, and also for working in health care -- health care professionals deserve our gratitude.
I used to go to a walk-in here in NYC on West 72nd Street even though I lived in the Village. It was great! If I was sick and got so see someone immediately. I forget the cost but it was well worth it. It has long since closed.

There are no Walmarts in NYC; but if they have walk-in doctors and uniform quality control, I’ll know where to go when I’m far from home. This is brilliant.
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