Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase Close Haven Healthcare After Only Three Years in Operation

Despite high-hopes and much fanfare, the collaboration failed to transform healthcare and lower healthcare costs for everyday Americans as many anticipated it would

Another anticipated “disruptor” to today’s healthcare market is closing its doors. Three years ago, in 2018, Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A), and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) announced a joint venture to enter into the healthcare market and use their combined market leverage to secure lower-cost healthcare for their 1.2 million employees. At that time, healthcare business experts suggested Haven Healthcare (Haven), as the non-profit joint venture was named, might become a transformative healthcare model other companies could follow.

But that was not to be. In January, the companies announced Haven would close its doors in February. Why did it fail to accomplish its goals? And how will its demise affect the healthcare benefits provided to the thousands of people employed at these companies? The answers to these questions should be of interest to pathologists and medical laboratory managers who want to position their clinical labs as high-quality, added-value contributors to patient care.

One Expert’s Opinion on Demise of Haven Healthcare

In an article he penned for Harvard Business Review, titled, “Why Haven Healthcare Failed,” John S. Toussaint MD, an internist, former healthcare CEO, and founder and Executive Chairman of Catalysis, a non-profit healthcare educational institute, outlined three major reasons for Haven’s closing:

  • Insufficient Market Power: According to Toussaint, the three companies simply did not have the market power to dominate a large enough share of any local market. In addition, with a combined 1.2 million employees, the companies did not have enough employees to incentivize providers into lowering prices.
  • Perverse Incentives: In the current healthcare environment, US insurers and providers make huge profits from treating disease. This means there is little incentive to keep people out of hospitals or accept the risks associated with fixed-price capitation. 
  • Poor Timing: The COVID-19 pandemic forced providers to focus on and manage the crisis, which, in turn, caused them to postpone or even cancel elective and non-emergency medical procedures, resulting in financial hits and the unwillingness to take on the uncertainty associated with new, possibly dubious arrangements.

Why Is It Hard to Disrupt Healthcare?

Jeff Becker, Principal Analyst, Healthcare, CB Insights, told Quartz, “Haven is yet another cautionary tale to outsiders [who] hope to disrupt the industry that their ambition is likely unrealistic and that solving key industry problems proves to be far more difficult than most anticipate.”

Other experts point to a vague plan, an overly ambitious strategy, difficulty retaining top talent, a lack of visible progress, and the divergence of interests between the three companies as potential reasons for Haven’s demise, Quartz reported.

“Haven’s decision to cease operations proves just how hard it is to disrupt the healthcare system in America,” Robert Andrews, JD (above), a former US Congressman for the state of New Jersey, and CEO of Health Transformation Alliance, told Forbes. “Even three of the largest and most influential employers in the country found the challenge a very steep one. We share with Haven’s founders the conviction that employer sponsorship is key.” (Photo copyright: United States House of Representatives.)

Did Haven Healthcare Demonstrate Any Innovation?

It is unclear what the collaboration accomplished or what exactly led to its demise, but it does seem that some positive developments were created through the venture. 

According to Forbes, Haven Healthcare stated on its now-defunct website, “In the past three years, Haven explored a wide range of healthcare solutions, as well as piloted new ways to make primary care easier to access, insurance benefits simpler to understand and easier to use, and prescription drugs more affordable. Moving forward, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase and Co. will leverage these insights and continue to collaborate informally to design programs tailored to address the specific needs of their own employee populations.”

At least one of the three partners may have anticipated Haven’s closure and taken proactive steps. In January of 2020, Dark Daily reported that Amazon Care launched a pilot program which offers virtual primary care to its Seattle employees, and features both telehealth and in-home care services, including clinical laboratory testing.

At that time, we noted the similarities with Haven Healthcare.

And in “Amazon Building Labs to Do COVID-19 Testing,” Dark Daily’s sister publication The Dark Report covered how, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon built and now operates multiple clinical laboratories for testing its employees.

Amazon has a history of entering an industry and successfully disrupting it. Its willingness to build lab testing facilities to do its own COVID-19 testing may be the first step in a multi-year strategy to enter the clinical laboratory industry and disrupt it by offering better quality lab testing services at a cheaper price.  

Thus, it is likely these medical laboratories will continue to deliver clinical testing even after the pandemic has officially ended and will compete with local independent clinical laboratories.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Why Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Jamie Dimon Gave up on Their Venture to Disrupt US Healthcare

Amazon’s Haven Healthcare Venture to Shut Down

Why Haven Healthcare Failed

Haven Is Shutting Down, 3 Years After It Terrified Health-Care Investors

Amazon Care Pilot Program Offers Virtual Primary Care to Seattle Employees; Features Both Telehealth and In-home Care Services That Include Clinical Laboratory Testing

Guidehouse Healthcare Experts Outline Six Ways COVID-19 Pandemic Is Accelerating Healthcare Transformation

Financial losses for hospitals and health systems due to cancelled procedures and coronavirus expenses will lead to changes in healthcare delivery, operations, and clinical laboratory test ordering

COVID-19 is reshaping how people work, shop, and go to school. Is healthcare the next target of the coronavirus-induced transformation? According to two experts, the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing hospitals and health systems toward a “fundamental and likely sustained transformation,” which means clinical laboratories must be prepared to adapt to new provider needs and customer demands.

In “Industry Voices—6 Ways the Pandemic Will Remake Health Systems,” published in Fierce Healthcare, authors David Burik, Partner, and Brian Fisher, Director, at Guidehouse (formerly Navigant Consulting and a “portfolio company of Veritas Capital”), stated that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with the finances of America’s hospitals and healthcare systems.

Burik and Fisher called attention to the staggering $50 billion-per-month loss for hospitals and health systems that was first revealed in an American Hospital Association (AHA) report published in May. The AHA report estimated a $200 billion loss from March 1, 2020, to June 30, 2020, due to increased COVID-19 expenses and cancelled elective and non-elective surgeries.

Adding to the financial carnage is the expectation that patient volumes will be slow to return. In “Hospitals Forecast Declining Revenues and Elective Procedure Volumes, Telehealth Adoption Struggles Due to COVID-19,” Burik said, “Healthcare has largely been insulated from previous economic disruptions, with capital spending more acutely affected than operations. But this time may be different since the COVID-19 crisis started with a one-time significant impact on operations that is not fully covered by federal funding.

“Providers face a long-term decrease in commercial payment, coupled with a need to boost caregiver and consumer-facing digital engagement, all during the highest unemployment rate the US has seen since the Great Depression,” he continued. “For organizations in certain locations, it may seem like business as usual. For many others, these issues and greater competition will demand more significant, material change.”

A Guidehouse analysis of a Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) survey, suggests one-in-three provider executives expect to end 2020 with revenues at 15% below pre-pandemic levels, while one-in-five of them anticipate a 30% or greater drop in revenues. Government aid, Guidehouse noted, is likely to cover COVID-19-related costs for only 11% of survey respondents.

“The figures illustrate how the virus has hurled American medicine into unparalleled volatility. No one knows how long patients will continue to avoid getting elective care or how state restrictions and climbing unemployment will affect their decision making once they have the option,” Burik and Fisher wrote. “All of which leaves one thing for certain: Healthcare’s delivery, operations, and competitive dynamics are poised to undergo a fundamental and likely sustained transformation.”

As a result, the two experts predict these pandemic-related changes to emerge:

  • Payer-Provider Complexity on the Rise; Patients Will Struggle. As the pandemic has shown, elective services are key revenues for hospitals and health systems. But the pandemic also will leave insured patients struggling with high deductibles, while the number of newly uninsured will grow. Furthermore, upholding of the hospital price transparency ruling will add an unwelcomed spotlight on healthcare pricing and provider margins.
  • Best-in-Class Technology Will Be a Necessity, Not a Luxury. COVID-19 has been a boon for telehealth and digital health usage, creating what is likely to be a permanent expansion of virtual healthcare delivery. But only one-third of executives surveyed say their organizations currently have the infrastructure to support such a shift, which means investments in speech recognition software, patient information pop-up screens, and other infrastructure to smooth workflows will be needed.
Chuck Peck, MD
“Through all the uncertainty COVID-19 has presented, one thing hospitals and health systems can be certain of is their business models will not return to what they were pre-pandemic,” Guidehouse Partner Chuck Peck, MD (above), a former health system CEO, said in a statement. “A comprehensive consumer-facing digital strategy built around telehealth will be a requirement for providers. Moreover, shifting hardware and physical assets to the cloud, and use of robotic process automation, has proven to be successful in improving back-office operations in other industries. Providers will need to follow suit.” Clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups should track these developments and respond appropriately to meet the changing needs of the hospitals and physicians they serve with diagnostic testing services. (Photo copyright: Athens Banner-Herald.)
  • The Tech Giants Are Coming. Both major retailers and technology stalwarts, such as Amazon, Walmart, and Walgreens, are entering the healthcare space. In January, Dark Daily reported on Amazon’s roll out of Amazon Care, a 24/7 virtual clinic, for its Seattle-based employees. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) is adding to a healthcare portfolio that includes online pharmacy PillPack and joint-venture Haven Healthcare. Meanwhile, Walmart is offering $25 teeth cleaning and $30 checkups at its new Health Centers. Dark Daily covered this in an e-briefing in May, which also covered a new partnership between Walgreens and VillageMD to open up to 700 primary care clinics in 30 US cities in the next five years.
  • Work Location Changes Mean Construction Cost Reductions. According to Guidehouse’s analysis of the HFMA COVID-19 survey, one-in-five executives expect some jobs to remain virtual post-pandemic, leading to permanent changes in the amount of real estate needed for healthcare delivery. The need for a smaller real estate footprint could reduce capital expenditures and costs for hospitals and healthcare systems in the long term.
  • Consolidation is Coming. COVID-19-induced financial pressures will quickly reveal winners and losers and force further consolidation in the healthcare industry. “Resilient” healthcare systems are likely to be those with a 6% to 8% operating margins, providing the financial cushion necessary to innovate and reimagine healthcare post-pandemic.
  • Policy Will Get More Thoughtful and Data-Driven. COVID-19 reopening plans will force policymakers to craft thoughtful, data-driven approaches that will necessitate engagement with health system leaders. Such collaborations will be important not only during this current crisis, but also will provide a blueprint for policy coordination during any future pandemic.

As Burik and Fisher point out, hospitals and healthcare systems emerged from previous economic downturns mostly unscathed. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven the exception, leaving providers and health systems facing long-term decreases in commercial payments, while facing increased spending to bolster caregiver- and consumer-facing engagement.

“While situations may differ by market, it’s clear that the pre-pandemic status quo won’t work for most hospitals or health systems,” they wrote.

The message for clinical laboratory managers and surgical pathologists is clear. Patients may be permanently changing their decision-making process when considering elective surgery and selecting a provider, which will alter provider test ordering and lab revenues. Independent clinical laboratories, as well as medical labs operated by hospitals and health systems, must be prepared for the financial stresses that are likely coming.

—Andrea Downing Peck

Related Information:

Industry Voices–6 Ways the Pandemic Will Remake Health Systems

Amazon Care, the Company’s Virtual Medical Clinic, Is Now Live for Seattle Employees

Checkup for $30, Teeth Cleaning $25: Walmart Gets into Health Care

Walgreens and VillageMD to Open 500 to 700 Full-Service Doctor Offices within Next Five Years in a Major Industry First

New AHA Report Finds Financial Impact of COVID-19 on Hospitals and Health Systems to be Over $200 Billion through June

Hospitals Forecast Declining Revenues and Elective Procedure Volumes, Telehealth Adoption Struggles Die to COVID-19

Amazon Care Pilot Program Offers Virtual Primary Care to Seattle Employees; Features Both Telehealth and In-home Care Services That Include Clinical Laboratory Testing

Walmart Opens Second Health Center Offering Clinical Laboratory Tests and Primary Care Services

‘There’s an App for That’ is Becoming the Norm in Healthcare as Smartphones Provide Access to Patient Medical Records and Clinical Laboratory Test Results

Amazon’s app-based employee healthcare service could be first step toward retailer becoming a disruptive force in healthcare; federal VA develops its own mHealth apps

More consumers are using smartphone applications (apps) to manage different aspects of their healthcare. That fact should put clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups on the alert, because a passive “wait and see” strategy for making relevant services and lab test information available via mobile apps could cause patients to choose other labs that do offer such services.

Patient use of apps to manage healthcare is an important trend. In January, Dark Daily covered online retail giant Amazon’s move to position itself as a leader in smartphone app-based healthcare with its launch of Amazon Care, a virtual medical clinic and homecare services program. At that time, the program was being piloted for Seattle-based employees and their families only. Since then, it has been expanded to include eligible Amazon employees throughout Washington State.

Mobile health (mHealth) apps are giving healthcare providers rapid access to patient information. And healthcare consumers are increasingly turning to their mobile devices for 24/7 access to medical records, clinical laboratory test results, management of chronic conditions, and quick appointment scheduling and prescription refills.

Thus, hearing ‘There’s an app for that’ has become part of patients’ expectations for access to quality, affordable healthcare.

For clinical laboratory managers, this steady shift toward mHealth-based care means accommodating patients who want to use mobile apps to access lab test results and on-demand lab data to monitor their health or gain advice from providers about symptoms and health issues.

Amazon, VA, and EMS Develop Their Own mHealth Apps

The Amazon Care app can be freely downloaded from Apple’s App Store and Google Play. With it, eligible employees and family members can:

  • Communicate with an advice nurse;
  • Launch an in-app video visit with a doctor or nurse practitioner for advice, diagnoses, treatment, or referrals;
  • Request a mobile care nurse for in-home or in-office visits;
  • Receive prescriptions through courier delivery.

The combination telehealth, in-person care program, mobile medical service includes dispatching nurses to homes or workplaces who can provide “physical assessments, vaccines or common [clinical laboratory] tests.”

Glen Tullman, Executive Chairman of Livongo
“Amazon is a company that is experimenting a lot with a variety of opportunities in healthcare,” Glen Tullman (above), Executive Chairman of Livongo, a healthcare company specializing in treating diabetes, and an Amazon partner company, told CNBC. “It’s one to watch.” (Photo copyright: CNBC.)

However, the US federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also is becoming a major player in the mHealth space with the development of its own mobile app—VA Launchpad—which serves as a portal to a range of medical services.

Veterans can access five categories of apps that allow them to manage their health, communicate with their healthcare team, share health information, and use mental health and personal improvement tools.

Neil C. Evans, MD, Chief Officer in the VA Office of Connected Care
“The VA was an early adopter of digital health tools and remains a leader within US healthcare in leveraging technology to enhance patient engagement,” Neil C. Evans, MD (above), Chief Officer in the VA Office of Connected Care, told Healthcare IT News. “These digital tools are allowing veterans to more actively understand their health data, to better communicate with VA clinical teams, and to engage more productively as they navigate their individual health journeys,” Evans added. (Photo copyright: Department of Veterans’ Affairs.)

mHealthIntelligence reported that mobile health tools also are enabling first responders to improve emergency patient care. At King’s Daughters Medical Center in Brookhaven, Miss., emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are using a group of mHealth apps from DrFirst called Backline to gain real-time access to patients’ HIPAA-compliant medication histories, share clinical data, and gain critical information about patients prior to arriving on the scene.

Using Backline, EMTs can scan the barcode on a patient’s driver’s license to access six months’ worth of medication history.

“In the past, we could only get information from [patients] who are awake or are willing to give us that information,” Lee Robbins, Director of Emergency Medical Services at King’s Daughters Medical Center in Brookhaven, Miss., told mHealthIntelligence. “Knowing this information gives us a much better chance at a good outcome.”

Smartphone App Detects Opioid Overdose

The opioid crisis remains one of the US’ greatest health challenges. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 47,600 opioid-related deaths in 2017, and the problem has only gotten worse since then.

To curtail these tragic deaths, University of Washington (UW) researchers developed a smartphone app called Second Chance, that they believe can save lives by quickly diagnosing when an opioid overdose has occurred.

The app uses sonar to monitor an opioid user’s breathing rate and, according to a UW press release, can detect overdose-related symptoms about 90% of the time from up to three feet away. The app then contacts the user’s healthcare provider or emergency services.

The UW researchers are applying for US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance. They published their findings in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

While Demand for mHealth Apps Grows, Concern over Privacy and Security also Increases  

According to mobile data and analytics company App Annie, global downloads of medical apps grew to more than 400 million in 2018, up 15% from two years earlier.

“As with mobile banking, consumers are showing they trust mobile apps with their most sensitive information and are willing to leverage them to replace tasks traditionally fulfilled in-person, such as going into a bank branch or, in the case of medical apps, to a doctor’s office,” App Annie’s website states.

However, the proliferation of mHealth apps has raised privacy and safety concerns as well. While the FDA does regulate some mobile health software functions, it does not ensure an mHealth app’s accuracy or reliability.

In his article, “Dangers of Defective Mobile Health Apps and Devices,” published on the Verywell Health website, Kevin Hwang, MD, MPH, physician, researcher, and Medical Director of UT Physicians General Internal Medicine Center in the Texas Medical Center at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, points out that “most mHealth apps have not been tested in a rigorous manner.”

Fierce Healthcarereported that federal lawmakers are worried veterans who use the VA’s 47 mHealth apps could find their sensitive healthcare information shared or sold by third-party companies. In fiscal year 2018, veterans participated in more than one million video telehealth visits, a VA press release reported.

US Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nevada, Chairperson of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, told Fierce Healthcare, “As we assess the data landscape at the VA and the larger health IT space, we need to look at where protections exist or don’t exist and whether we need more guardrails.”

What does all this mean for clinical laboratories? Well, lab managers will want to keep an eye on the growing demand from consumers who want direct access to laboratory test data and appointment scheduling through mHealth apps. And, also be aware of HIPAA regulations concerning the sharing of that information.

—Andrea Downing Peck

Related Information:

How Amazon is Using IoT to Care for Its Employees

Amazon Launches Amazon Care, a Virtual Medical Clinic for Employees

VA Seeing Substantial Growth in Telehealth, Key Patient Engagement Tools

VA Releases Launchpad App to Streamline Healthcare Access for Veterans and Caregivers

Drug Overdose Deaths

Smartphone App Can Detect Opioid Overdoes Using Sonar

VA Exceeds More than One Million Video Telehealth Visits in FY2018

Medical Apps Transform How Patients Receive Medical Care

Dangers of Defective Mobile Health Apps and Devices

mHealth Tools Help Providers Access Data When They Most Need it

Here’s How Amazon Employees Get Health Care Through a New App—A Glimpse of the Future of Medicine

VA Launches New mHealth App to Consolidate Vets’ Access to Resources

The VA Recommends Apps for PTSD and Pain Management. It’s Led to New Veteran Privacy Concerns

Walmart Opens Second Health Center Offering Clinical Laboratory Tests and Primary Care Services

In another example of giving consumers more direct access to medical laboratory tests, Walmart believes that convenience and lower prices can help it capture market share

Retail giants continue to add healthcare services—including medical laboratory testing—to their wares. It’s a trend that pressures hospital systems, clinical laboratories, pathology groups, and primary care providers to compete for customers. And, while in most instances competition is good, many local and rural healthcare providers cannot reduce their costs enough to be competitive and stay in business.

This is true at Walmart (NYSE:WMT), which recently opened its second “Health Center” in Georgia and announced prices for general healthcare services 30% to 50% below what medical providers typically charge, reported Modern Healthcare.

The services offered at the new Walmart Health Center in Calhoun, a suburb of Atlanta, include:

  • Primary care
  • Dental
  • Counseling
  • Clinical laboratory testing
  • X-rays
  • Health screening
  • Optometry
  • Hearing
  • Fitness and nutrition
  • Health insurance education and enrollment

A Walmart news release states, “This state-of-the-art facility provides quality, affordable and accessible healthcare for members of the Calhoun community so they can get the right care at the right time … in one facility at affordable, transparent pricing regardless of a patient’s insurance status.”

The fact that Walmart posts “Labs” on the Health Center’s outdoor sign may indicate the retail giant considers easy access to clinical laboratory testing a selling point that will draw customers.

“By offering clinical laboratory testing in support of primary care and urgent care, Walmart may be able to lower prices for lab tests in any market that it enters,” said Robert Michel, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication The Dark Report, and President of The Dark Intelligence Group.

The sign above on the exterior of Walmart Health Centers lists the services offered. By advertising “Labs” Walmart is confirming that growing numbers of consumers want to order their own lab tests and that the availability of lab tests gives its medical clinic a competitive advantage. (Photo copyright: Modern Healthcare.)

Healthcare Transparency and Lower Prices

The 1,500 square-foot free-standing Walmart Health Centers offer more services than the in-store Care Clinics installed in other Walmarts throughout Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas. For its healthcare services, Walmart established partnerships with “on-the-ground” health providers to offer affordable services.

“We have taken advantage of every lever that we can to bring the price of doing all of this down more than any hospital or group practice could humanly do. Our goal, just like in the stores, is to get the prices as low as we can,” Sean Slovenski, Senior Vice President and President of Walmart Health and Wellness, told Bloomberg Businessweek.  

Some of the clinical laboratory prices prominently posted in the building and noted on the Health Center online price list include:

  • Primary care physician office visit $40
  • Lipid $10
  • Hemoglobin A1c $10
  • Pregnancy Test $10
  • Flu Test $20
  • Strep Test $20
  • Mono Test $20

Meanwhile, the average cost to visit a primary care doctor is $106, according to Health Care Cost Institute data cited by Business Insider, which noted that Walmart’s rates “could be a steep mountain for traditional providers to climb.”

However, Rob Schreiner, Executive Vice President of WellStar Health System in Northern Georgia told Modern Healthcare that “Walmart will offer a cheaper alternative for working-class families who may not have health insurance and may not have an established relationship with a primary care provider.”

Convenient Access to Quality Healthcare Services a Major Draw

At a freestanding Walmart Health Center, people can park near the entrance and walk a few steps to the entrance, rather than traversing aisles to a Care Clinic inside a Walmart Supercenter. And for many customers, finding a Walmart Health Center may not be as complicated or stressful as visiting doctors’ offices.

That seems to be Walmart’s goal—not simply using the Health Centers to increase traffic in its stores, Slovenski said. “We are trying to solve problems for our customers. We already have the volume,” he told Forbes. “We have the locations and the right people. We are creating a supercenter for basic healthcare services.”

Walmart’s arrangement with local healthcare providers differs from traditional primary care clinics staffed by doctors who are practice owners, or who are employed by nearby hospitals and health systems.

“The whole design of the clinic is curious to most of the doctors here [in Dallas, Ga.],” Jeffrey Tharp, MD, Chief Medicine Division Officer, WellStar Medical Group, told Modern Healthcare. “We are advocating integration into our network, for instance with patients who need a cardiologist coming from Walmart to WellStar.”

Other Retailers Offering Primary Care Services

Walmart is not the only retailer moving into the outpatient healthcare market. Dark Daily recently reported on CVS Health’s and Walgreens’ strategies in delivering primary care, as well as on the Amazon Care pilot program, which may lead to Amazon becoming a primary care provider as well. (See, “Amazon Care Pilot Program Offers Virtual Primary Care to Seattle Employees; Features Both Telehealth and In-home Care Services That Include Clinical Laboratory Testing,” January 31, 2020.)

Clinical laboratory leaders may want to explore partnerships with Walmart and other retailers that are developing healthcare centers to deliver primary care services in places where masses of people shop for everyday items. Especially given that these big-box retailers remain open during healthcare crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Walmart Tests Leap into Healthcare Business by Opening Second Clinic

Calhoun Walmart Remodel Features Opening of New Walmart Health Center

Walmart Takes on CVS, Amazon with Low Price Healthcare Clinics

Walmart Health Center Price List

Walmart Opens Second Primary Care Center

Walmart’s First Healthcare Services Supercenter Opens

Walgreens, CVS Add New Healthcare Services and Technology in Their Retail Locations; is Medical Laboratory Testing Soon to be Included?

Amazon Care Pilot Program Offers Virtual Primary Care to Seattle Employees, Features Bot Telehealth and In-Home Care Services that Include Clinical Laboratory Testing

Amazon Care Pilot Program Offers Virtual Primary Care to Seattle Employees; Features Both Telehealth and In-home Care Services That Include Clinical Laboratory Testing

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, 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?