Who gets Walmart, CVS and Amazon specialist referrals?

Large retail and big tech companies are developing healthcare clinics across the U.S. Where do their employed physicians and clinicians refer patients who need specialists or surgery?

It often depends on patient preference and corporate relationships.

Walmart has 20 clinics and could expand to include thousands more over the next decade.

"If someone in Walmart Health needs to be referred for care, we ask them if they have a doctor they would like to see," said Carla Landon, senior manager of global communications and corporate affairs for Walmart. "If not, we provide a list of options, and our community health workers can help connect them to the services they need, as well as make sure their needs are being met."

The Walmart community health workers also follow up with their patients to make sure they're connected with specialists. This is a clear opportunity for surgery centers and independent physicians to develop relationships with the local clinics that could lead to a referral boost. On the national level, partnerships between large retail companies and ASC chains may also shift cases to the high-quality, low-cost ASC setting.

CVS MinuteClinics also make referrals to outside physicians for patients with more complex care needs. The company's clinics made 4 million referrals to primary care providers in 2019, according to the CVS executive presentation at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. Chad Mulvany, director of healthcare finance policy, perspectives and analysis for the Healthcare Financial Management Association, estimated 400,000 of those patients were eventually referred to specialists. Partnering health systems and organizations could capture some of those referrals, Mr. Mulvany suggested.

The share of patients beginning their care journeys at retail clinics is increasing. In its September 2020 report, PwC found the number of Americans who reported using a retail clinic increased 40 percent during the pandemic. The number who went to retail urgent care clinics grew 18 percent, and 75 percent of those patients said they would use retail clinics again, according to the report.

Amazon launched virtual healthcare clinics for its employees in 2019. The platform includes telehealth visits with physicians, nurse practitioners or other medical professionals seeking treatment and specialist referrals. The company's platform includes preventive care, chronic care management and joint care. Patients also can use the platform for virtual care and to schedule in-home visits with their practitioners.

If patients need a higher level of care, Amazon's care coordinators work with them to connect with an appropriate specialist. The company is expanding its platform across the U.S.

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