Walmart adds veterinary clinics that advertise basic services

Published on June 26, 2019

Walmart is expanding in-store veterinary clinics, with plans to reach 30 by June and add another 100 within a year.

Clinic at a Walmart store
An Essentials PetCare veterinary clinic at a Walmart store in Royse City, Texas (Courtesy of Essentials PetCare)

The company also added a pet prescription delivery service through Walmartpetrx.com and is selling the 30 most-requested pet-use drugs in store pharmacies.

Walmart officials announced that nine store-based clinics would open in May and June in the Dallas–Fort Worth area. Spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said in a message that all existing and planned clinics are or will be run by one of two outside companies: Essentials PetCare and VetIQ.

Walmart's announcement includes claims that clients at the in-store clinics pay 40%-60% less than the typical prices for examinations, vaccines, and treatments for minor illnesses. Essentials PetCare and VetIQ both advertise that they offer basic services that are affordable to people who otherwise would be unable to give their pets medical care.

Information from Essentials PetCare, for example, indicates that walk-in chain staff use limited equipment and products and refer patients to nearby animal hospitals for advanced services. The company also discourages bringing animals to the clinics for emergency care.

Essentials spokesman James Judge said the company plans to open clinics in about 100 Walmart-based stores within a year, indicating it would run the bulk of the new clinics described in Walmart's announcement.

PetIQ, which owns VetIQ and the clinic chain VIP Petcare, announced earlier this year that it plans to open clinics in 1,000 retail stores by 2023.

As of this spring, the VIP Petcare brand had 3,400 mobile and fixed-location clinics staffed by 1,500 veterinarians, according to presentation documents for investors. In documents about PetIQ's 2018 results, company officials said they opened 25 retail store–based veterinary clinics in 2018 and planned to open at least 80 more in 2019.

Retailers, including pharmacies and big-box stores, have already opened thousands of clinics for human health care. Information published in 2016 by the nonprofit Rand Corp. indicates CVS and Walgreens operate three-quarters of retail-based human health care clinics.

Most retail clinics for human medicine are in Southern and Midwestern states, and they tend to deliver care by nurse practitioners or physician assistants, according to Rand. Retailers also have tended to open more of the clinics in affluent urban and suburban areas than in medically underserved areas.

One article published in March 2016 by Health Affairs—and co-authored by a Rand policy researcher—suggests retail health care clinics raise overall spending on nonemergency services such as urinary tract infections, sinusitis, and immunizations, but many retail clinic visits replace visits to other doctors. In health care records from 13 million Aetna enrollees, the authors found about 60% of the retail clinic visits in 2011-12 were new spending and 40% were substitutions for visits to physician offices and emergency departments.

"Fewer office visits could improve efficiency in the health care delivery system by freeing physicians to handle more complicated cases that are more appropriate for their higher level of training than simpler cases, and thereby potentially lessen the primary care shortage in the United States," the article states. "However, retail clinics have been found to decrease continuity of care and therefore may disrupt the physician-patient relationship.

"This may be of particular concern for people with multiple chronic illnesses, for whom continuity of care is critical."

Related JAVMA content:

Clinics open in Walmart stores (June 1, 2018)