Just What the Doctor Didn’t Order

Did you catch this news item last week?



It brought to mind an article Dr. Verigin wrote for Biosis more than 5 years ago:



Reflecting on his evolution as a biological dentist, Dr. Verigin used the example of mercury amalgam to illustrate the kind of thinking that puts product – and profits – ahead of people:

Mercury fillings are not technique-sensitive. They can be placed much more quickly than nontoxic composites – three to four “silver” fillings for each composite. Dental care becomes assembly line work. The dental chair becomes a site of volume selling, like a Wal-Mart or Costco. The more product you move, the greater your profit.

Not long after last week’s Wal-Mart story broke, the company issued a statement that they “are not building a national, integrated, low-cost primary care health care platform.” But as NPR noted in its follow-up, Wal-Mart has left themselves plenty of wiggle-room.

Wal-Mart’s ambitions to do something bigger in health care remain pretty clear. The company is looking for help managing chronic health conditions — from asthma to osteoporosis — that are among the most prevalent problems in the U.S. Other services might include some common lab tests, including PSA, and physical exams.

Whatever they do, we’re hardly alone in raising an eyebrow at the idea of big box health care.

Family physicians have long been vocal critics of in-store clinics, arguing that patients need a regular source of care from someone who knows their medical history. Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, says Wal-Mart’s proposal takes health care in the wrong direction by further fragmenting care.

Others aren’t sure the company’s approach can really work. “Maybe Wal-Mart can deliver a lot of this stuff more cheaply because it is an expert at doing this with other types of widgets, but health care is not a widget and managing individual human beings is not nearly as simple as selling commercial products to consumers,” says Ann O’Malley, a physician and senior health researcher at the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.

And will it save money? Because primary care services are not the main driver of health care costs in this country, “I would be surprised if this were a model that could truly attack cost problems,” says O’Malley.

But it may well boost store traffic and sales.

says Colin McGranahan, a retail analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. “Their traffic has been declining for over two years and they’ve been losing market share,” McGranahan says. “If you get someone in the door, you can also sell them milk and a shotgun.”


Images by Walmart Stores and writeomikek, via Flickr


About The Verigin Dental Health Team

A humanistic, holistic dental practice in Northern California, providing integrative, biological, mercury-free dentistry
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