The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) describes health equity as being achieved when every person has the opportunity to “attain his or her full health potential” and no one is “disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.” For those living in the United States, health equity remains an elusive feat. 

Across the nation, the uninsured and underinsured are burdened by rising healthcare costs, the economic downturn, and cutbacks in public programs. And economists estimate that each year health-related productivity losses reduce the U.S. economic output by $260 billion. Though achieving health equity remains a moving target, individual entities are doing their part to improve healthcare outcomes.

This week Walmart launched the Walmart Healthcare Research Institute (WHRI) with a goal of increasing community access to healthcare research that is expected to lead to safer, higher quality and more equitable healthcare.

“At Walmart, we want to help ensure all our customers have access to high quality, affordable, and convenient healthcare resources, including innovative research,” says Dr. John Wigneswaran, Walmart’s Chief Medical Officer. “We know our customers are interested in participating in healthcare research, but many have not had access until now. We are already making an impact for our customers and for medical research, by raising patient trust and engagement in their care.”

Walmart’s new venture will focus on innovative interventions and medications that can make a difference in underrepresented communities. This includes women and minority populations, the latter of which have been both overlooked and victimized by healthcare research. WHRI’s initial focus is on changing that with inclusion in studies on treatments for chronic conditions and innovative treatments that should include members from these communities.

Historically, those who participate in clinical trials have been overwhelmingly white. WHRI also notes that they tend to be people who live near research centers, have time to devote to the study and have the financial ability to take part. FDA data shows that just 8 percent of trial participants in 2020 were Black, compared to 75 percent white.   

“The efforts by Walmart in research are innovative and impactful—it is clear that the intention behind their foray into this space is to genuinely make a difference for patients of all ages, race and gender in their ability to access research,” says Bill Hawkins, Chairman of the Board at Duke University Health. “This initiative will support individual patient health as well as the health of numerous communities home to Walmart stores.”

In tandem with the initiative, Walmart has also launched a digital tool that allows patients to view their own data. MyHealthJourney will also push reminders for care services and research opportunities. One HBCU professor is particularly excited about the new enterprise.

“Walmart's research initiative aligns with North Carolina A&T's strategic plans to further expand its local, regional and national community engagement activities in order to reduce social, economic and health disparities within African American populations,” says Dr. Raymond Samuel, a Professor of Biology at A&T and the past project director at the Hampton University-based Minority Men’s Health Initiative (MMHI). “Walmart's interest in ensuring that DEIA is at the core of its effort to increase customer access to clinical trials is in synergy with the historical commitment of NC A&T to enhancing the well-being of its communities.”