If the last few years are anything to go by, Amazon is determined to be at the forefront of the global disruption of healthcare. Last year the retail behemoth acquired online pharmacy PillPack, and earlier this year it partnered with six healthcare companies to develop Alexa Skills to enable customers to access personalized patient information.
Now — following in the footsteps of Apple which quietly launched its own employee clinic network called AC Wellness in early 2018 — the company has announced that Amazon Care, a telemedicine service, will be made available for some employees in Seattle.
CNBC broke the news last week after Amazon sent an email about the program to its employees and launched the website which states the platform will be employees’ “first stop for healthcare.”
“To help Amazon employees get excellent medical advice and help whenever it’s needed, we’re piloting a new program for employees and their dependents — Amazon Care,” the company wrote in the email, as obtained by CNBC. “The benefit is currently in pilot form for a population of employees in the Greater Seattle area and we’re looking forward to helping build and scale the benefit to meet the needs of more employees in the months and years ahead.”
Participating staff will be able to access a clinician over text or video call. They can discuss urgent issues such as colds, allergies, infections and minor injuries. They will also be able to access sexual health testing and services and will enable them to discuss preventative measures such as vaccines and general family health management.
Notably, Amazon is not employing any doctors; instead, the company is contracting a local clinic called Oasis Medical Group.
If the doctor or nurse thinks a patient needs closer assessment they can recommend “Mobile Care” which will send a nurse in the flesh to the patient’s home or office. Any medication prescribed will be delivered by an Amazon “Care Courier.”
Amazon Care Courier
While the service is not 24/7, it does operate extended hours, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. The service is not for Emergency Care so any life or death situations should go via the usual hospital route.
What does the Amazon initiative mean for the future of healthcare?
The healthcare industry is often experiencing bouts of breath-holding, waiting for Amazon’s disruptive next move. And telemedicine is being plugged as tech’s answer to reduce the strain on healthcare systems by providing greater access and convenience to patients.
Speculation around the company’s foray into telemedicine largely marks Amazon as a player ripe to transform primary care, especially in the United States where healthcare is largely privately owned.
American citizens obtain health insurance through their employers, independently through private purchase, or through government-based programs.
Companies that offer health insurance as an employee benefit are looking for new and more affordable ways to manage employee health.
If Amazon decides to branch out Amazon Care to other employers it could spell big trouble for private insurers that will struggle to compete with the giant’s size, data capabilities, competitive pricing and convenience presented through services like medication delivery.
Amazon Care is also another explicit move to adjust the company’s own internal health insurance program and to save on sky-rocketing healthcare costs. Last year, the company teamed up with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan to create a new health care company for the three organizations’ employees.
Plus, Amazon is proving that it sees healthcare as an investment. A company that has healthy employees with good and affordable access to healthcare will benefit from fewer employee sick days and could prevent more serious and costly illnesses.
As reported by Healthcare Finance, depending on what survey you read, an employee clinic can save $2,000 a year per employee if it is well-utilized.
The market will continue to wait and see if the service will remain for Amazon employees only, or if the company is planning to eventually offer it as a direct-to-consumer healthcare product in its own right.
Michael Acton Smith