Amazon launches virtual medical clinic for Seattle employees

By Rebecca Pifer for Healthcare Dive

Dive Brief:

  • Amazon has launched a virtual care clinic as a pilot for its Seattle employees called Amazon Care, including in-person followup doctor visits at an employee’s home or office, along with at-home prescription drug delivery.
  • The e-commerce giant’s virtual offering includes an in-app telemedicine visit with a doctor, nurse practitioner or registered nurse for “advice, answers, diagnoses, treatment, or referrals,” according to the pilot’s website.
  • Amazon Care can be used for urgent healthcare issues like colds, infections or minor injuries, along with preventive health consults, vaccines, lab work, sexual health services and general health questions. The online retailer has contracted with Washington state clinic Oasis Medical Group to provide healthcare services.

Dive Insight:

Companies have created clinics for their employees in the past, such as Apple with its AC Wellness clinics. However, Amazon’s seems the most bullish on telemedicine — forecast to be a $130 billion market by 2025.

Amazon said employees are eligible for the virtual care offering if they’re 18 or older, live and work within Seattle, where the company is based, and are enrolled in an Amazon health insurance plan. Employees enrolled in Kaiser Permanente plans can’t participate, however.

Employees can use the app to chat with a nurse on any health topic and employees can be prescribed medicine within a few hours. Drugs can be delivered to employees’ homes or picked up at a preferred pharmacy.

The news was “widely anticipated” due to the spate of hires and the fact that Amazon has been building physical clinics, SVB Leerink analyst Daniel Grosslight noted.

Last year, Amazon hired Christine Henningsgaard, a former vice president at One Medical, and Martin Levine of Iora Health, a Seattle-based primary care practice, raising eyebrows that the tech-savvy retailer may be eyeing the provider space.

Thus far, Amazon’s most direct competitors in healthcare have been retail pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS Health, rivals to Amazon’s at-home prescription drug delivery company, PillPack.

However, the pilot could open up a new market for Amazon to disrupt. It would face a lineup of competitors, including virtual care players American Well, Teladoc and Doctor on Demand, if it expands.

Teladoc stock was down 6% premarket following the news of the Amazon threat, though a potential commercial launch of Amazon Care to the general public is likely a ways away. Analysts also note Amazon is likely to look for clinician and telemedicine partnerships if it scales out the new offering in lieu of running a provider network itself.

“We are more likely to see ‘co-opetition’ between ‘big tech’ and healthcare vendors with big tech aggregating data/consumers and providing an elegant user interface while healthcare vendors such as Teladoc manage clinical networks and provide domain expertise,” Grosslight wrote.

CVS and Walgreens stock were also trending slightly downward early Wednesday morning, though Amazon plans to see how its Seattle-area corporate and fulfillment center employees respond to the pilot before potentially building it out.

Amazon partnered with J.P. Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway last year for a joint venture called Haven to lower healthcare costs for their combined 1.2 million employees. Details remain scarce, though CEO Atul Gawande says the trio will focus on leveraging data and technology to fix broken financial incentives.

Though Haven has been at the center of much industry speculation, Amazon Care is separate from both Haven and PillPack, according to the company.

Amazon also sells six HIPAA-eligible AI and machine learning Amazon Web Services offerings, has a patent seeing whether its smart speaker Alexa can tell when users are sick from their voice patterns, offers pattern-recognition software that combs through medical records, sells glucose monitors and blood pressure cuffs direct to consumers and is working on wireless earbuds with some fitness and health-tracking features.

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