Scottsdale-based MeMD, a multi-specialty telehealth provider, was acquired by Walmart Health on June 29. The acquisition will enable Walmart Health to complement its in-person care centers with virtual urgent, behavioral and primary care. John Shufeldt, M.D., founded MeMD in 2010 and, prior to that, grew NextCare urgent care from a single clinic to a network of 58 clinics in six states before stepping away to innovate in the telehealth space.
“Walmart wants to favorably impact healthcare at a massive scale. Healthcare costs keep going up and access is limited,” says Bill Goodwin, CEO of MeMD. “How do we address the social determinants of health? How do we bring care to rural populations? Virtual care makes a huge difference in addressing those questions, and Walmart sees an opportunity to meet their mission of bringing care to people. That’s exactly what MeMD is all about.”
Telehealth providers allow patients to meet virtually with a doctor for nonemergency visits and receive a prescription, if needed. The telehealth industry has been around for more than a decade, with players such as Teladoc, Amwell and MDLIVE in the market.
“It only takes a few clicks before you’re connected to a doctor,” Goodwin explains. He adds that there is an option to call the service from a phone, so folks don’t need to navigate a website or app.
The pandemic caused an increase in telehealth utilization since many patients didn’t want to wait in a doctor’s office and potentially expose themselves to COVID-19. Goodwin thinks that this forced patients and doctors who were reluctant to engage in telehealth to experience the benefits firsthand. “Physicians are realizing that this is a good way to see patients,” he says. “There are now providers who only want to do telehealth. They’re in a small town or rural community, but they don’t have an in-person clinic setting. They’re 100% virtual.”
There are a few issues that hinder the rise of telehealth. The first is the ability to practice medicine across state lines — a doctor in Arizona cannot provide care to a patient in California. Some telehealth companies, such as MeMD, sidestep this issue by having a network of doctors in the states they operate. The second hurdle for telehealth companies is how Medicare reimburses telehealth visits.
“The rules relaxed so reimbursement was equal to an in-person visit because of COVID-19. What I think we’ll see happen because of how long the pandemic has gone on is that we won’t revert back to where there was such a dramatic difference between in-person and telehealth reimbursement,” Goodwin comments.
Walmart Health’s acquisition of MeMD represents a trend in the industry. In October 2020, Teladoc merged with Livongo, while earlier this year Cigna acquired MDLive, and Grand Rounds and Doctors on Demand merged. Goodwin believes that Walmart Health’s acquisition of MeMD will be a boon for the platform.
“Our mandate is to bring care to people, make it more convenient, lower the costs of care and make it more accessible,” Goodwin concludes. “That aligns very well with Walmart’s mission to help people live healthier lives by having access to affordable care.”