Amazon Care is a big deal – here’s why

By Paddy Padmanabhan for Healthcare IT News

The rumors about Amazon’s entry into the virtual primary care space have been swirling for a while. Reports had indicated that Amazon had quietly filed paperwork to offer virtual and in-person care in several states.

Now, Amazon has now gone full-bore, as it were, and has confirmed that the services will be available nationwide starting the summer of 2021. An Amazon spokesperson confirmed that the service would be delivered through Care Medical, an independent private medical practice consisting of licensed clinicians with whom Amazon has contracted as Amazon Care’s clinical team.

The Amazon Care offering now puts a big tech firm directly in the healthcare services business for the first time. There are three critical aspects of Amazon Care worth noting:

  • The offering addresses two major emerging trends in healthcare delivery: telehealth and home-based care. Alongside its filings to operate Amazon Care in multiple states, Amazon also announced its participation in a home healthcare advocacy group in early March. Moving Health at Home aims to promote home-based care, a trend that is already playing out with remote patient monitoring models for chronic care and post-acute care management.
  • The offering targets employers. “By supplying Amazon Care as a workplace benefit, employers are investing in the health and well-being of arguably their most important asset: their employees.” Amazon has recognized a pain point in employers struggling with runaway inflation in healthcare costs. Speaking to this need will make Amazon Care look appealing to some employers. Employers are desperate for an alternative to the current state anyway, so why not Amazon Care?
  • It raises the bar on performance for incumbents. “Amazon Care enables employers to provide access to high-quality medical care within 60 seconds for employees, including options for care around the clock through messaging or video.” Think of this as Amazon Prime same-day-delivery on steroids. Amazon has rightly latched onto a critical gap in telehealth experiences today: access to a medical professional in 60 seconds or less. Amazon Care eliminates lengthy wait times and travel times to see a doctor and provides care quickly in the comfort of patients’ homes, 24/7 and 365 days a year. What’s not to like?

The Amazon Care service combines the best parts of virtual care with a new approach to in-person care that brings clinicians directly to the patient at their home. As work-from-home gains momentum, employers seeking to keep today’s busy workforce healthy may find that Amazon Care offers them an attractive combination of speed, convenience and peace of mind.

Amazon hasn’t exactly set the market on fire with its healthcare initiatives to date – except to cause a flurry whenever it makes a healthcare announcement. The much-ballyhooed Haven Healthcare initiative folded earlier this year.

The Pillpack acquisition, which pioneered a novel way to deliver prescription drugs to homes, hasn’t upended the pharma retailing or distribution businesses, and remains a niche player in the big scheme of things.

Amazon continues to experiment with new and promising technologies, such as voice-based Alexa services.

It has announced other varied initiatives, such as the Halo wearable for health and wellness and the Amazon Health Lake data management product. The one exception remains AWS, a towering giant that seemingly came out of nowhere and has dominated the market for cloud computing for the past several years.

Healthcare has proved to be notoriously difficult to disrupt because of deeply entrenched interests. That said, well-entrenched players in other sectors have undergone disruption before – media, hospitality and personal transportation, to name a few.

Healthcare is already being disrupted at the edges as digital-first companies expand their footprint in primary and urgent care and consumers become more comfortable with virtual care delivery in the aftermath of the pandemic.

More important, the U.S healthcare system, which is the most expensive in the world, needs a new approach. The $3 Trillion U.S healthcare market has plenty of room for innovators and incumbents. Competition and innovation result in lower costs and improved quality across all industries.

Healthcare is in the very early stages of a transformation to an entirely new model of care. If Amazon is the one to deliver the big breakthrough we have been waiting for, so be it. Someone has to do something.

Amazon has a history of building on experiments to learn from what didn’t work the first time, to continue to tinker till they succeed. With the learnings from their healthcare bets so far, will the whole now be bigger than the sum of the parts for Amazon Care?

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