Wal-Mart Leading Team to Improve Health Care IT

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. here said yesterday it's teaming up with the University of Arkansas and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arkansas, Alabama, and Illinois to launch the Center for Innovation in Health Care Logistics, which will work to improve the health care delivery system via information technology. The chain said it will pour $1 million into the effort.

Wal-Mart announced the center's creation at a meeting of business, IT, and health care leaders in Rogers, Ark., to discuss health information technology.

"The best example of this need [for better health care system information] was Hurricane Katrina," noted Wal-Mart vice chairman John Menzer in a statement. "Medical records, property records, court records were lost. Entire family histories -- medical, cultural, and otherwise -- were gone in an instant, and the entire region is still recovering from this massive loss of information."

"Although health care presents formidable challenges, many of the needed solutions can be adapted from innovations in other industries, including those where our corporate partners have been leaders," said Prof. Ron Rardin of the University of Arkansas, who will serve as the center's executive director. "The center's efforts will focus on identifying and replicating best-practice solutions, as well as conducting novel research to address technology gaps and roadblocks."

The center will initially look into information technology-based innovations for bringing visibility and tracking to every level of health care procurement and distribution processes, with the goals of significant cost savings, streamlined operations, greater cooperation among participating organizations, and avoidance of serious errors.

As the lead strategic partner, Wal-Mart will pledge $1 million over five years to fund the center, which will also raise money from other private-sector companies, government agencies, and foundations to support its research and demonstration projects.

"By partnering with the University of Arkansas, we intend to share expertise in technology and turn the theoretical discussion of health information technology into real applications so consumers can benefit through greater access to information, higher safety rates, and enhanced quality," explained Wal-Mart e.v.p. of risk management, benefits, and sustainability Linda Dillman.

In addition to introducing $4 generic prescriptions in all of its U.S. pharmacies last fall, Wal-Mart, along with Applied Materials, BP America, Cardinal Health, Intel, and Pitney Bowes, is a member company of Dossia, a nonprofit organization that will provide the framework for private electronic personal health records. And last month the world's largest retailer joined with business, government, labor, and public policy leaders to roll out the "Better Health Care Together" campaign, which presented four principles for revamping the American health care system by 2012.

Wal-Mart has Wal-Mart discount stores, Supercenters, Neighborhood Markets, and Sam's Club locations in the United States. The retailer also operates in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, and the United Kingdom.
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