Wal-Mart Enters The Holistic Health Market

Following the implementation in February 2008 of in-store health clinics in Atlanta, Little Rock and Dallas under “The Clinic at Wal-Mart” brand, Wal-Mart now has its sights set on the holistic health market with the opening of Wal-Mart Community Acupuncture clinics in several major urban centers across America by years end. Wal-Mart Senior Vice President and president, health and wellness Dr. John Agwaunobi said, “Chinese medicine and pharmacology are a great treasure house and efforts should be made to increase both access and affordability, which seem to go hand in hand.”

Since a 2005 initiative to both quell public criticism toward its business practices, as well as operate more efficiently controlling costs, Wal-Mart has enacted massive environmental measures, making good on its pledge to be “good stewards for the environment”, as CEO Lee Scott has said. Indeed, the world’s most profitable corporation is touting locally grown produce in stores nationwide, ensuring that its fine jewelry lines are traceable and joining forces with the World Wildlife Fund to save the world’s most valuable and threatened forests. And while critics of Wal-Mart assail the corporation for its treatment of workers in regards to healthcare coverage, Wal-Mart employees, or associates, can become eligible for individual health coverage costing as little as $5 per month in some areas and as little as $8 per month nationwide. 92% of associates have health insurance. Add to this a menu of 2400 generic prescription drugs for $4 and Wal-Mart seems to be placing associates healthcare needs at the forefront of its priorities. But with the addition of Wal-Mart Community Acupuncture (WCA) and The Clinic at Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart is setting its sights on the healthcare needs of the 100 million customers that visit their stores each week. “We know that America’s healthcare challenges are larger than any one corporation, but we’re committed to doing our part to expand access to quality, affordable healthcare – our commitment to provide a proven alternative modality like acupuncture to the American public is evidence,’ said Agwunobi. ‘WCA will allow the average American to experience the benefit of acupuncture at a fraction of the cost of what it retails for in private practices nationwide.” WCA will pioneer a group acupuncture treatment model in which patients are treated on recliners in an open, large room with an initial visit fee of $20 dollars and a follow-up fee of just $15. It is this price structure that Wal-Mart believes will fill the WCA clinics with customers with little to no experience with acupuncture.

The WCA project is partnering with several privately owned acupuncture schools on both coasts to field pilot clinics with recent graduates at The Clinic at Wal-Mart in both Dallas and Atlanta. Wal-Mart will take over the schools, four in total, after the 2009 spring session and educate acupuncturists in classrooms adjoining select WCA facilities. Tuition for students at the acupuncture colleges will be free provided that they sign a contract to work for WCA for a specified amount of time at a specified pay scale. The aim is for the acupuncture education system to resemble that of the western medical model in regards to residency programs, where graduating students can request to live and work in a certain area, but ultimately the decision is made for them.
“Our vision of the future is to transform healthcare for our community,” said Peter Banko, St. Vincent Health System’s president and chief executive officer, Wal-Mart’s walk in clinic partner in Little Rock. Banko is convinced that WCA will be part of a cost effective solution to the staggering rise in healthcare costs that is crippling the American economy. “We work every day towards that vision and the clinics that we will operate in Wal-Mart Supercenters will be a great solution for patients who come to us for health and healing.”

Wal-Mart’s entrance into the holistic health market comes on the heels of a 2006 effort to expand its customer base and the corporation now understands that customers fall into three main groups: “brand aspirationals” (people with low incomes who are obsessed with names like KitchenAid), “price-sensitive affluents” (wealthier shoppers who love deals), and “value-price shoppers” (people who like low prices and cannot afford much more). The new categories are significant because for the first time, Wal-Mart thinks it finally understands not just how people shop at its stores, but why they shop the way they do. This insight keyed executives to the burgeoning holistic health market, and they reasoned that these will be the same categories of people who come to WCA for acupuncture.

According to Agwunobi, the joint venture of Eastern meets Western medicine is part of a long term goal of opening 400 in store clinics by 2010 and is further proof of Wal-Mart’s commitment to providing affordable, accessible solutions to America’s healthcare challenges. Not everyone is excited, however, and critics of the plan are voicing their concern. Spokesperson for Acupuncturists Against Wal-Mart, Kathleen Golder, talked recently about the possible negative effects of the Wal-Mart clinics. “We are very concerned about the effect that Wal-Mart Community Acupuncture will have on both the acupuncture professional community and the public at large. A few of our concerns include a possible conflict of interest regarding traditional teachings and the merchandise sold and lifestyle encouraged at Wal-Mart leading to dilution and distortion of the classical teachings, the cornering of the school market leading to the closing of long operating private institutions, the destruction of the private room model, the destruction of non-Wal-Mart community acupuncture practices and lower wages for acupuncturists.” Agwunobi counters that not all acupuncturists have similar concerns, and that the clinics in Dallas and Little Rock as well as the teaching faculty at its schools will be staffed by non-Wal-mart trained acupuncturists. “There is no shortage of acupuncturists who are behind Wal-mart Community Acupuncture, in fact they have been among some of our most ardent supporters. Acupuncturists have been lining up to be a part of the this project. As always, Wal-Mart is creating jobs for Americans while providing low prices for consumers. It is a win-win situation for the many acupuncturists who need jobs and the public that can benefit from their skills. This is something that you won’t hear critics mention much. They will never talk about the needs of the unemployed or patients, just their professional community. It’s selfish.”

While it is no stranger to controversy, Wal-Mart has high hopes for WCA and The Clinic at Wal-mart. Projected benefits of the programs include the immediate availability of acupuncture to massive and unreachable markets of patients, free education for acupuncture students, jobs for failed private practice acupuncturists and the creation of new, guaranteed jobs for Wal-Mart trained acupuncturists. With its network of some 3800 stores in the US alone, Wal-Mart is in a unique position to introduce untold masses of Americans to a medicine that has weathered the test of time. The future looks bright for WCA and the patients who will go their for healing.

The Zang Fool
Author: The Zang Fool

<p> This is a satirical blog post by a practitioner that is serious in his attempts to both increase acupunctures accessibility to the public and challenge practitioners preconceived notions of what acupuncture is and how it functions in society. It may make you laugh, but that is just a means to an end. That end is thought and ultimately positive change. This is what all good satire does: prick, prod and provoke thought and positive change within a community. </p> <p> Satire has long been a part of muckraking and this profession is teeming with muck.  So, in the wake of the nonsense spewed from the foul anus of the Acupuncture-Industrial Complex come my musings on life, love and the proposed doctoral program. </p>

Related Articles

Conference Keynote: Breaking the Ceiling

The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.


Leave a Reply to David Lesseps Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Easy fool…not so fast, please

    let me have a little neighborhood clinic experience at least for a little while before i am smashed into oblivion… this is just so freakin Bizarro World that it could actually happen. yikes. funny thing is, when i first heard about  WM opening up care clinics at their stores, i thought it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for them to go open up a CA model and get it going.  huge market potential for them.  hmmmm…..imagine this being heard around the country ” welcome to walmart community acupuncture, here’s some paperwork for you to fill out, please have a seat and your acupuncturist will be right with you.”  whoa.

  2. Ahh, this explains…..

    …the call Ilse got from WORM (Walmart Operations & Research Management).  They told her she won some kind of sweepstakes….but she must come visit them in person to pick it up at a place called CROC (I looked it up…Clinical Receptionist Office of Cloning).

    Now I get it.  Wow, I’m hoping for a nice job offer (that has a freakin’ 401K plan at least).  What am I?  Chopped liver?


  3. Excellent!

    -Skip ———————–

      FINALLY our plans are coming to fruition.






    Mal: Well look at this. Seems we got here just in the nick of time! What does that make us?


    Zoë: Big damn heroes, sir.


    Mal: Ain’t we just.

  4. Dang it,

    I forgot to pick up a carton a milk and a new leg on my way home today.  My family is gonna be ticked at me.  

  5. Hmmmmm

    My first thoughts weren’t good.  Will the future of our schools reflect the money being channeled to it from a corporate interest?

    Who will be taking the profits of this kind of treatment? This will limit the independence of being an acupuncturist.  What will the energy space be like ?

    I can’t imagine getting a good treatment in a WalMart environment.j That willbe some work for the newly graduated acupuncture student.

    But then again, they can eventually graduate from that and go into their own business.  And WalMart would have to have it cheaper than 15 dollars to keep doing what they are proposing to do.

     Time will tell to see what becomes of it. 

    intriguing is all I can say.

  6. Negative Thinking

    I wonder if Medical Doctors are as scared and negative about the walmart health clinics as acupuncturists are about the prospects of walmart acupuncture clinics. I suspect they’re not, because they know people respect doctors even if they don’t pay much for it, and people need this affordable healthcare. Our problem is, we’re scared because we fear that people will see low prices and will think acupuncture is just a trendy thing, and does not do much, even less than a massage. And then when the word spreads acupuncture does not work, then who will go see the people who charge 100 per session?
    This is OUR problem, not walmart’s. It is OUR job to educate people about the education we go through to graduate and get a license, and to prove the benefits of acupuncture treatments by using effective techniques, and show that we ARE in fact there because we want to help people’s health. This will IMPROVE the standing of acupuncture, and trust me, many people will still rather avoid the crowds of Walmart and go see a private acupuncturist who will baby them.
    I do think that there are too many acupuncturists who do not really believe that acupuncture works that well. Maybe they’re not using the right methods, and need to improve their skills. Or maybe they’re right. Maybe one acupuncture session is not worth that much, but we are too scared to admit it… Maybe one treatment should really consist of 20 acupuncture sessions, making us not as powerful as doctors or chiropractors in the public eye. Maybe then acupuncture schools are ripping us off by putting us in school for so much time and money, and lying to us about how great tcm is.
    We have many questions to ask ourselves before pointing fingers at the big bad walmart…

  7. contd

    To clarify my own comment – the question is not whether tcm is great, because it is, but whether schools aren’t charging more than what the training is worth, forcing us to charge patients more just to stay out of debt. The problem I do see with walmart is: Why should we get “walmart training” if MDs do not get extra walmart training?

  8. My dilemna

    The question that kept me up at night was this:  If Wal-Mart can make acupuncture available to almost every American within the next year, would I as a business owner reject the notion on the grounds that it might force me out of business or dictate the way that I practice? Would it be best for CA to forge ahead as a soveriegn movement or align with the monolithic monster that is Wal-Mart in the interest of  patients?  Would nationwide Wal-Mart Community Acupuncture be in patients best interest?

    Your thoughts?

  9. Definite maybe

    Somewhere on this website, there used to be three main criteria for defining community acupuncture.  I’m not sure what happended to them, or if they are still on the website somewhere, but I still use them as my personal definition of CA.  They are:

    1) Acupuncture available on a no-burden-of-proof sliding scale (approximately $15-$40)

    2) Acupuncture provided in a group setting

    3) Provide a sustainable living wage for acupuncturists.


    If all three of these criteria were met by Wal-Martupuncture, then I would say that yes, I support the idea.  I think the hardest part would be criteria #3, because it might be hard for Walmart to provide that liveable wage and still sufficiently line their pockets. 

    The other question that arrises, may vary from state to state.  It is my understanding that in California, a for-profit acupuncture clinic may only be owned by a LAc, MD, or chiro.  In which case, Wal-Martupuncture would require to use LAc’s as private contracters, and Wal-Mart would basically become landlords offering rental space.  This would make criteria #3 even trickier.

    More thoughts?

  10. Associate at chair five…

    I envision an army of Wal-Lawyers and Wal-Lobbyists pummeling the judicial and legislative branches at the state and federal level. Who else has the financial clout to finally “reform” the regulation of acupuncture and oriental medicine to enact uniform federal regulatory laws that supercede all state laws?


  11. Effects of the internet

    I just got an email from an acupuncturist (as part of a mass-mailing of sorts), linking to this blog post as a way of sharing what’s new in the world of acupuncture.  It went to a lot of acupuncturists who are now thinking that Walmart will be offering acupuncture and who are not clear about the satirical intent of the post.


    Does this concern anyone but me? 


  12. It concerns me that the post

    It concerns me that the post is spreading mis-information, albeit unintentionally. How is the purpose of CAN supported by a large bunch of acupuncturists falsely thinking that Walmart is now going to be offering community acupuncture? From the way the post was forwarded to me, there was no automatic viewing of comments or even the CAN website without the extra effort that most readers probably skipped.

    I was thinking about this after I commented. What would you think of putting a short statement at the end of Zang Fool post’s that makes clear the satirical intent? I think there are many occasions, this one included, when folks might not have the appropriate context to get the humor So why not help them out a bit? I’m thinking about folks who just happen by the site, or who get the posts forwarded in an email as happened with this post. Just a thought.


  13. Walmart Acupuncture

    I think it’s a wonderful idea. We, here in Denver, applaud you! And get it here quickly, please! Kitty