Walmart Health's advantages over health systems, per its CMIO

After working in the hospital industry for several years, one of Walmart Health's newest executives has been pleasantly surprised with the agility of the healthcare "startup."

Claude Pirtle, MD, the inaugural chief medical informatics officer of Walmart Health & Wellness, said he's been able to quickly implement technology that makes more for a seamless patient experience since starting at the retail giant in October.

"Being in a startup organization in Walmart Health, you're trying to craft and scale and think about the full ecosystem versus larger, traditional systems that have been there for 100 years," he told Becker's. "We're growing very quickly and scaling, which is a little different than some of the other organizations."

What might have taken five years before, he said, he now aims to do in one or two.

Dr. Pirtle was previously vice president and chief medical information officer of West Tennessee Healthcare, a seven-hospital system based in Jackson, Tenn. He also served as an ACO medical director at Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network and did his medical residency at Vanderbilt.

While Walmart isn't exactly new to the health business, with its pharmacy and optical departments, the retailer opened the first Walmart Health center in 2019. These clinics combine primary, behavioral and dental care with labs, X-rays and hearing services.

The company has since launched 46 additional clinics across Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Texas, with plans to have a total of 77 — including in Arizona and Missouri — by the end of 2024. Walmart also offers 24/7 virtual urgent care to UnitedHealthcare members or to self-pay patients for $70 an appointment.

Dr. Pirtle said he no longer has to worry about things like operating room times and can instead focus on providing a smooth digital experience for Walmart patients, from online scheduling to appointment check-ins via their patient portal to asynchronous and video visits.

"The goal of my team specifically is to assist providers and staff behind the scenes," he said. "If you don't know we exist, that's a good thing, right?"

Walmart has the advantage of being on a single Epic EHR, allowing for easy data exchange between its clinicians, no matter their locations. The company also plans to integrate with Epic's Care Anywhere platform to connect with other healthcare providers who use the EHR vendor.

One thing Walmart does not provide is specialty care. He said the company is "mapping out" what that will look like and should know in the coming months. Other retail healthcare disruptors like Amazon's One Medical and CVS MinuteClinic partner with health systems in local markets on specialty care referrals.

Walmart Health has recruited other former health system executives to its ranks, including its executive vice president, Brian Setzer, a former C-suite leader for Pittsburgh-based Highmark Health.

Dr. Pirtle said he believes Walmart has a unique opportunity to increase healthcare access as 90 percent of the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of one of its stores.

"That's why we're so unique. Not many people have that type of brick and mortar to position their clinics in because most of them are regional-based or even e-commerce based," he said. "Ultimately, our goal is to make it as easy as possible to access care resources, understanding that care is local."

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