Experts say Amazon could be planning a roll-out of healthcare services to its Prime members and others

Clinical laboratory leaders will want to note that the Telehealth and home healthcare industries have expanded with the launch of Amazon Care, a virtual medical clinic and home care services program from global retailer Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN).

Amazon is piloting Amazon Care as a benefit for its 53,000 Seattle-area employees and their families, according to published reports. Could this indicate the world’s largest online retailer is moving into the primary care space? If so, clinical laboratory leaders will want to follow this development closely, because the program will need clinical laboratory support.

Amazon has successfully disrupted multiple industries in its corporate life and some experts speculate Amazon may be using its own employees to design a new medical delivery model for national roll-out.

The S&P report goes on to state, “In as little as five years, the Seattle-based e-commerce company could interlink its system of capabilities and assets to launch various healthcare products, insurance plans, virtual care services, and digital health monitoring to a broader population. The rollout would be part of a larger plan by Amazon to deliver convenient, cost-effective access to care and medications across the U.S., likely tied to Amazon’s Prime membership program, according to experts.”

Modern Healthcare reported that Amazon Care services include telemedicine and home visits to employees enrolled in an Amazon health insurance plan.

Experts contacted by S&P Global Market Intelligence suggest Amazon:

  • Plans a “suite of customized health plans and services for businesses and consumers;”
  • May offer health services to its five million seller business and more than 100 million Amazon Prime members; and
  • Sees healthcare as a growing market and wants greater involvement in it.

How Amazon Care Works

Amazon Care offers online, virtual care through a downloadable mobile device application (app) as well as in-person home care for certain medical needs, such as:

  • Colds, allergies, infections, and minor injury;
  • Preventative consults, vaccines, and lab tests;
  • Sexual health services; and
  • General health inquiries.

Becker’s Hospital Review reported that once a participant downloads the Amazon Care app to a smartphone or tablet and signs up for the program, he or she can:

  • Communicate with healthcare providers via text or video;
  • Plan personal visits if needed;
  • Set payment methods in their user profile; and
  • Receive a “potential diagnosis” and treatment plan.
The graphic above is taken from the S&P Global Market Intelligence report, which states, “Amazon is one of several tech firms vying for a share of the healthcare market where national spending is expected to reach $6.0 trillion by 2027, up from $3.6 trillion in 2018, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.” (Graphic copyright: S&P Global Market Intelligence.)

“The service eliminates travel and wait time, connecting employees and their family members to a physician or nurse practitioner through live chat or voice,” an Amazon spokesperson told CNBC, “with the option for in-person follow-up services from a registered nurse ranging from immunizations to instant strep throat detection.”

The “mobile health nurse” may also collect clinical laboratory specimens, the Verge reported.

Amazon has partnered with Oasis Medical Group, a family primary care practice in Seattle, to provide healthcare services for Amazon Care patients.

Paving the Way to Amazon Care

The Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) compares Amazon’s piloting of Amazon Care to similar healthcare projects that studied population health by first involving employee health plans.

HFMA’s analysis noted that Amazon Care is similar to Haven, a patient advocate organization based in Boston and New York that was created in 2018 by Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, and Berkshire Hathaway to lower healthcare costs and improve outcomes for participating companies.

Tech Crunch reported that in 2018 Amazon also purchased PillPack for nearly $1 billion and integrated its prescription delivery services into Amazon Care. 

More recently, Amazon acquired Health Navigator and plans to bring those offerings to Amazon Care as well, CNBC reported. Founded in 2014, Health Navigator provides caregivers with symptom-checking tools that enable remote diagnoses.

Should Telemedicine Firms Be Nervous?

Dark Daily recently reported on Doctor on Demand’s launch of its own virtual healthcare telehealth platform called Synapse. The e-briefing also covered Doctor on Demand’s partnership with Humana (NYSE:HUM) to provide virtual primary care services to the insurer’s health plan members, including online doctor visits at no charge and standard medical laboratory tests for a $5 copayment.

So, should telemedicine firms be concerned about Amazon competing in their marketplace? Business Insider predicts Amazon will need time to beef up its medical resources to serve people online and in-person through Amazon Care.

But that’s the point of Amazon’s pilot, isn’t it? What comes from it will be interesting to watch.

“Meanwhile, telemedicine firms can ink strategic partnerships and strengthen their existing payer relationships to safeguard against Amazon’s surge into the space,” Business Insider advised.    

It remains to be seen how medical laboratory testing and reports would fit into an expanded Amazon Care health network. Or, how clinical laboratories will get “in-network” with Amazon Care, as it grows to serve customers beyond Amazon’s employees.

As Dark Daily recently advised, medical laboratory leaders will want to ensure their lab’s inclusion in virtual care networks, which someday may include Amazon Care.

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Amazon Pilots Virtual Health Clinic for Employees

Amazon Could Roll Expanded Healthcare Plans, Services into Prime: Experts

National Health Expenditures Data

Amazon Launches Amazon Care, A Virtual Medical Clinic for Employees

Amazon is Now Offering Virtual Care to its Employees

Six Glimpses into the Amazon Care App, Employees’ ‘First Stop for Healthcare’

Analysis: Implications for Providers as Amazon Offers its Employees Access to a Virtual Clinic  

Amazon Acquires Health Navigator for Amazon Care, its Pilot Employee Healthcare Program

Amazon Acquires Digital Health Start-up Health Navigator

Amazon Piloting a Virtual Care Platform as the Company’s Next Big Step into Healthcare

As Primary Care Providers and Health Insurers Embrace Telehealth, How Will Clinical Laboratories Provide Medical Lab Testing Services?