How major retailers are trying to change how America consumes health care

the health and tech strategist

institute for continuous transformation

Joaquim Cardoso MSc
Founder and Chief Researcher & Editor
March 12, 2023


Major retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, CVS, Dollar General, and others are entering the healthcare delivery market …

… by integrating tech-enabled services such as urgent care, primary care, home and specialty care, and pharmacy. 

  • These retailers are pushing for a customized consumer experience driven by digital health products, which could lead to more engaged patients, better access to care in underserved areas, and a sustainable model for offering better care at a lower cost. 

  • Retailers such as Amazon, CVS, and Walmart have made the most significant moves by combining their massive retail footprints with assets such as primary or urgent care sites, pharmacies, and relationships with insurers. 

  • Medicare Advantage is an attractive segment of healthcare for these retailers due to its payment models geared towards rewarding providers for wellness and prevention care. 

  • However, these retailers will need to deliver the same or better outcomes at a lower cost to be recommended by payers and employers.


Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

How major retailers are trying to change how America consumes health care

Tina Reed, author of Axios Vitals
Mar 8, 2023 

Amazon, Walmart, CVS, Dollar General and other big retailers are elbowing their way into health care delivery, pushing a customized consumer experience driven by digital health products.

What’s happening: At its core, these companies are pulling together different tech-enabled services — urgent, primary, home and specialty care, pharmacy, and, in some cases, full integration with an insurer.

Why it matters: A more user-friendly portal to the health system could lead to more engaged patients and better access to care in underserved areas. It could even yield a sustainable model for profitably offering better care for less money.

What they are saying: “If you fast forward 10 years from now, people are not going to believe how primary care was administered,” said Amazon CEO Andy Jassy in a recent announcement about the company’s $3.9 billion acquisition of concierge medicine provider One Medical.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Driving the news: Yesterday, Best Buy Health launched a hospital-at-home program with North Carolina-based Atrium Health. 

The tech retailer bought the remote patient monitoring company Current Health in 2021. 

Best Buy said it will provide patient education, its at-home care platform and devices, and technical support via specially-trained Geek Squad agents.

  • In January, CVS Health announced a plan to buy Oak Street Health, a primary care group focused on Medicare patients. The pharmacy giant already owns insurer Aetna, pharmacy benefit manager CVS-Caremark, home health company Signify Health and health care service brands MinuteClinic and HealthHUB.

Between the lines: Amazon, CVS and Walmart have made some of the most consequential moves by combining their massive retail footprints with assets like primary or urgent care sites, pharmacies and some sort of relationship with insurers, experts say.

  • “They’re all acquiring every piece of medicine,” Robert Pearl, a Stanford University professor and former CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, told Axios.

  • “Medicine as we know it will be very very different assuming they’re successful. They’re big companies, they’re smart companies.”

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Be smart: Depending on the retailer, patients might have access to virtual care services, book appointments and fill prescriptions via an app.

In the first wave of this trend, retailers were more focused on urgent care or one-off visits for vaccines, said Jacob Effron, a principal at Redpoint Ventures.

  • “The criticism that could’ve been levied at that is that patients could just go for that ad hoc care and not have an ongoing relationship with a primary care doctor,” he said.

  • In recent months, retailers are investing in end-to-end primary care. “That’s what gets me increasingly excited about their role because there’s only so much you can do as the urgent care provider and much much more you can do when you have that longitudinal relationship between the doctor and a patient over time,” Effron said.

Between the lines: Each of these businesses also are clearly eyeing a very lucrative segment of health care: Medicare Advantage. More than half of eligible seniors are now covered by privately-run Medicare.

  • Medicare Advantage is attractive because its payment models are geared toward rewarding providers for wellness and prevention care. Payments are capped so there’s an incentive to use integrated care to keep people healthy rather than providing services when they are sick.

  • For some retailers, it’s similar to the Kaiser Permanente model, where the payer and provider are completely aligned, Pearl said. But the retailers could create an HMO on steroids.

  • “Why has Kaiser Permanente never really expanded nationally? It’s very hard to get enough of a population in a local area to provide it. You can’t hire enough specialists, enough doctors,” he said. 
    “The beauty of the retail giants is how big they are. If you get every Amazon Prime member to join, they immediately have enough volume they need to put in place a high-functioning system.”

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

What to watch: How these businesses evolve.

The bottom line: This still makes up a very small segment of health care delivery — and may not solve the medical system’s biggest problems.

  • “These players ultimately have to deliver the same or better outcomes at a lower cost in order to be in-network and get recommended by payers as well as picked by the employers,” Hofmann said.

  • And, she said, they can certainly increase access. “It remains to be seen if they can really bend the cost curve,” she said.

Originally published at on March 8, 2023.

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