Walmart Plans to Use Precision Medicine AI Technology to Expand the Company’s Influence in Healthcare

Healthcare leaders will want to be aware of recent moves that Walmart is making in using artificial Intelligence (AI) for personalized healthcare

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Retail giant Walmart recently announced in a news release a partnership with Health at Scale to use “predictive machine intelligence” to produce personalized provider recommendations for its employees and their families. Walmart covers more than 1 million lives, Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) reported in 2020.

According to Health at Scale’s website, its Precision Navigation technology “offers deeply personalized outcomes-driven provider guidance in real-time to inform patients, care team members, care coordinators, and call center operators at multiple points across the care continuum. With this solution, each patient is empowered with a highly individualized shortlist of high-value providers to simplify the referral process and enable broader utilization of the overall network.”

The Health at Scale partnership adds weight to the many ways Walmart is leveraging its size to build market share in healthcare and possibly create its own healthcare ecosystem optimized for patients, providers, employers, and payers.

Only two days after announcing the new partnership with Health at Scale, Walmart also announced plans to start providing clinical laboratory services in collaboration with Quest Diagnostics, Grocery Dive reported.

A Quest news release states that the diagnostics company “will now offer consumer-initiated laboratory testing powered by QuestDirect in collaboration with Walmart. The new solution allows people to take control of their healthcare and purchase the same high quality laboratory tests ordered by healthcare providers through a consumer-friendly website. … With this new testing solution, an individual can purchase among more than 50 different tests, including general health, digestive health, allergy, heart health, women’s health, and infectious disease.”

Walmart’s interest in entering the healthcare market is not new. In 2018, Walmart announced it was considering purchasing the health insurance company Humana, The Wall Street Journal reported, adding that the deal “would mark a dramatic shift for the retail behemoth and the latest in a recent flurry of big deals in healthcare services.” However, in 2020 it had begun selling Walmart Insurance Services, according to Healthcare Finance News. Among those who may be keeping watch are self-insured companies.

Making Precision Medicine Recommendations With Artificial Intelligence

Health at Scale CEO Zeeshan Syed, PhD
Health at Scale CEO Zeeshan Syed, PhD (above), says it’s time to optimize the patient-provider match. Health at Scale’s first models recommended skilled nursing facilities for post-acute care patients, reported MIT News in 2020. The models expanded to recommendations for primary care physicians, surgeons, specialists, and beyond. (Photo: Harry Who Photography/Health Evolution)

However, Walmart’s partnership with Health at Scale may be the first time it has partnered with a healthcare technology company that would lead to precision medicine for its employees. Health at Scale uses AI and machine learning to model different outcomes that a patient is likely to experience with individual providers based on each patient’s medical history, demographics, and many other personalized factors.

Though personal provider recommendations for patients is a somewhat unique application of personalized medicine, it’s still precision medicine if outcomes are improved.

The initial structure of this partnership only makes personalized provider recommendations available to current Walmart associates who were enrolled in Walmart’s health plan and to their families. This development, however, does come at a time when Walmart is actively exploring different possible entries into the healthcare space and is actively experimenting with potential healthcare offerings.

Could Walmart Expand Personal Provider Recommendations to the Public?

While Walmart has not indicated that its partnership with Health at Scale could be a prelude into a wider application of this personalized medicine learning-based technology, it is reasonable to infer that this could be a potential direction Walmart is considering. In addition, developments elsewhere in the company indicate interest in reaching other self-insured companies, reported Med City News in October 2021.

For now, however, Walmart is emphasizing that the Health at Scale partnership is solely for its associates. “Customizing services and treatments to individual needs is the next frontier in healthcare and is a major part of Walmart’s commitment to helping associates and their family members find great doctors who consistently deliver the best value and quality care in their community,” said Lisa Woods, VP, Walmart US Benefits. “We are excited to launch this collaboration with Health at Scale and are eager to see the impact that another innovative benefit like this will have on associates’ healthcare experience and outcomes.” 

Although Walmart is still in the early stages of creating and launching healthcare offerings, its large size and vast resources should cause strategic-minded healthcare leaders to pay attention to moves the retail company is making. By staying abreast of how emerging competitors such as Walmart are leveraging AI-based precision medicine, healthcare leaders can ensure that they are providing their patients with the superior services and resources that they expect.

—Caleb Williams

Related Information:

Walmart Teams Up with Health at Scale to Help Its Workers Find the Right Doctor

Walmart and Health at Scale Launch Customized Provider Recommendations for Plan Participants

Walmart and Quest Diagnostics Consumer-Initiated Laboratory Testing Solution

Walmart Deepens Healthcare Offering with Lab Test Partnership

Why Transcarent is sending self-insured companies to Walmart’s health services

The company Health at Scale uses machine learning to improve outcomes for individual patients

Walmart’s plans to test narrow networks selected on quality could set stage for a shift in employer-sponsored insurance

Walmart begins selling health plans in time for Medicare’s annual enrollment period

Walmart in Early-Stage Acquisition Talks with Humana

Interviews With Precision Medicine Movers

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