Walmart's latest partnership pushes retailer into spine care

Alan Condon -  

Beginning April 1, a chain of spinal health and wellness centers will begin popping up at Walmart stores, another key move in the retailer's push into the healthcare industry.

The chain of retail spine clinics, called The Back Company, are in partnership with Brentwood, Tenn.-based IMAC Holdings, a provider of minimally invasive and regenerative orthopedic therapies.

Following the success of a pilot program, The Back Company will provide chiropractic adjustments, corrective instrument adjusting and percussion therapies for soft tissue recovery, muscle relaxation and spinal wellness in the retail store.

Services are priced at $25 per treatment, with memberships available for $65 per month, in addition to family and wellness plans, according to the company. The Back Space locations in Walmart stores offer both walk-in and appointment-based treatments.

"We have the ability to leverage a competitive advantage in a $20 billion industry that will efficiently utilize capital to increase storefronts quickly through franchising," Jeff Ervin, CEO of IMAC, said in a news release. "Our pilot allowed us to develop our technical infrastructure, refine the services and messaging and implement the infrastructure needed to launch the franchise program."

The Walmart partnership comes nine years after the retail giant launched its Centers of Excellence program, which affiliates with health systems that demonstrate appropriate and high-quality care in specialty areas that include spine surgery and joint replacement.

The program bundles payments for the costs of certain procedures, allowing Walmart to bypass insurers and work directly with health systems.

Walmart's Centers of Excellence for spine surgery comprise hospitals and health systems in 10 states, including Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic, Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., and Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.

Under the COE program, Walmart pays for the entire cost of employees to travel and receive spine care at designated facilities. Employees can seek care outside of the designated centers, but they will be responsible for the bill.

A Harvard Business Review analysis of the program in 2019 found:

- Employees who had spine surgery at Centers of Excellence sites had an average hospital stay of 2.5 days, compared to 2.9 days for non-COE employees.

- 0.6 percent of the COE patients were discharged to skilled nursing facilities, compared to 4.9 percent of non-COE patients.

- From 2015-18, the readmission rate per 1,000 patients was three for COE patients and 65 for non-COE patients.

- On average, patients who received care at a Center of Excellence returned to work after 10.6 weeks, 2.6 weeks sooner than the non-COE patients.

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