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Walmart to Offer Healthcare...Minus the Doctors

Update Date: Feb 21, 2013 11:27 AM EST

Who needs a doctor when you have a Walmart?

Under the Affordable Care Act, primary care physicians may be put under stress from the load of more patients than they'd ever had before. Self-service kiosks are intended to alleviate that load. As one user pointed out, you may not go to the doctor every year, like you should, but you certainly go to the grocery store.

Walmart is jumping into the health game with thousands of health kiosks that will be placed in their stores and Sam's Club stores across the country starting next month - totaling 2,500 SoloHealth kiosks in total, according to Kaiser Health News. The reach of the store is significant, and adds to the store's growing influence in the health sector. Already, Walmart stores have pharmacies and medical clinics, and a top official for the company recently said that the retailer was considering entering the primary care sector. That statement has since been walked back.

Many consumer advocates are worried that the kiosks may be used as a method for advertisements - say that you suffer from allergies and you will receive an advertisement for Zoloft, for example. However, 20 percent of users said that they did not notice the ads. Other people are concerned about the possible breaches of privacy, as the company is not covered under the same disclosure rules under HIPPA that doctors are. However, SoloHealth says that all information is aggregated before it is handed over to advertisers.

SoloHealth says that the company is not meant to displace doctors. They claim that their service is intended only to educate. In fact, the machine provides a directory for doctors, about 20 to 30 names long per specialty, though most of the doctors appear to be Walmart-affiliated. Currently, the machines allow people to test their eyesight and their blood pressure, as well as to learn about vitamins, diet and pain management.

In the future, though, the company has eyes on expansion. It wants to provide information about quitting smoking, test whether people are at risk for smoking and even enroll users under health coverage. Other people want to help users determine whether they need medication, as some drugs, like some high cholesterol medications, are being considered for over-the-counter use.

Though SoloHealth may have the most reach now with its appearances in Walmart stores, it is not the only kiosk in the game. HealthSpot allows users to have a video "visit" with a physician, and NowClinic, a subsidiary of the United Healthcare Group, invites users to chat with doctors for 10 minutes.

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