News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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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?

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

When patients use telehealth, how do they choose medical laboratories for lab test orders their virtual doctors have authorized?

Doctors On Demand is expanding the nation’s primary care services by launching a virtual care telehealth platform for health insurers and employers. This fits into a growing nationwide trend toward increased use of remote and virtual doctor’s visits. But how should clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups prepare for fulfilling virtual doctors’ lab test orders in ways consistent with current scope-of-practice laws?

The rise of virtual care is made possible by innovations in digital and telecommunication technology. Driven by studies showing more patients are opting out of conventional primary care visits that take too much time or are too far away, the healthcare industry is responding by bringing medical services—including pathology and clinical laboratory—closer to patients through retail settings and urgent care clinics.

Many pathologists and clinical laboratory managers are unaware of how swiftly patients are becoming comfortable with getting their primary care needs met by other types of caregivers, including virtually. Recently, the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI) published data showing that visits to primary care physicians declined 18% from 2012 to 2016 among adults under 65 who had employer-sponsored insurance. However, during these same years, visits with nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants increased by 129%!

Another way that providers are making it easier for patients to access healthcare is through the Internet.

Doctor On Demand, a San Francisco-based virtual care provider, is targeting insurers and employers with its Synapse telehealth platform, which integrates into existing health plan networks and enables virtual primary care, according to a news release.

“Through our fully integrated technology platform, we’re putting the patient first and introducing continuity of care not previously available through virtual care solutions,” said Hill Ferguson, CEO of Doctor On Demand in a statement announcing the launch of Synapse on the Humana (NYSE:HUM) health plan network. (Photo copyright: The Business Journals.)

How Synapse Works

Humana is using Synapse in its new On Hand virtual primary care plan, the news release states. Humana said its members have no copay for the virtual doctor visits and $5 copays for standard medical laboratory tests and prescriptions. Synapse’s “smart referrals” function sends referrals to in-network clinical laboratories, imaging providers, and pharmacies, Healthcare Dive reported.

“Humana has a deep footprint, and this is a payer looking to create a virtual primary care network as a way to contain cost and thinking about how care is coordinated and delivered,” Josh Berlin, a Principal and Healthcare Co-Practice Leader with advisory firm Citrin Cooperman, told FierceHealthcare.

Changing Primary Care Relationships

Another insurer advancing telehealth is Oscar Health, which offers its own Doctor on Call telehealth platform. The New York City-based health plan reported in a year-end review that 82% of its members had set up a profile that gave them access to a concierge care team and 24/7 telemedicine services, including clinical laboratory test results. 

During 2018, Oscar’s concierge teams addressed 1.2 million questions from 77% of its members, the insurer said.

The graphic above, taken from research conducted by the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI), shows that while virtual primary care has been expanding, conventional visits to primary care physicians fell 18% from 2012 to 2016 among adults under 65 who had employer-sponsored insurance. Simultaneously, visits with nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants increased by 129%! This indicates a shift in how patients view access to primary care physicians and may explain why telehealth is becoming an attractive option. How will clinical laboratories fit into this new healthcare paradigm? (Photo copyright: HCCI.)

Becker’s Hospital Review reports that telehealth usage by Oscar’s members is five times higher than the average for the healthcare industry.

Will Clinical Laboratories Receive Virtual Referrals?

In a way, it has never been easier for patients to see a primary care doctor or research symptoms. Additionally, the Internet makes it possible for patients to self-diagnose, though not always to the benefit of healthcare providers or the patients.

So, how should clinical laboratories respond to this growing expansion of virtual care doctors? Experts advise lab leaders to reach out to health plans soon and determine their inclusion in virtual healthcare networks. Labs also may benefit by making test scheduling and reporting accessible and convenient to insurance company members and consumers choosing telehealth.

During his keynote presentation at the 24th Annual Executive War College in May, Ted Schwab, a Los Angeles area Healthcare Strategist and Entrepreneur, said, “If you use Google in the United States to check symptoms, you’ll find 350 different electronic applications that will give you medical advice—meaning you’ll get a diagnosis over the Internet. These applications are winding their way somewhere through the regulatory process. (See Schwab’s expanded comments on this trend in, “Strategist Explains Key Trends in Healthcare’s Transformation,” The Dark Report, October 14, 2019.)

Schwab advises that in this “time of change” it’s critical for labs to take proactive measures. “What we know today is that providers—including clinical laboratories and pathology groups—who do nothing will get trampled. However, those providers that do something proactively will most likely be the winners as healthcare continues to transform.”

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Doctor On Demand Launches Synapse, a New Virtual Care Platform Delivering Next Generation Primary Care for Health Plans and Employer Populations

Telemedicine Startup Doctor On Demand Taps Giant Health Partner to Debut Virtual Primary Care Plan

Doctor On Demand Rolls Out Virtual Care Platform for Primary Care

Humana and Doctor On Demand Launch Virtual Primary Care Plan to Bring More Services With Lower Costs to Patients, Insurers, and Employers

Trends in Primary Care Visits

Humana and Doctor On Demand Launch Virtual Primary Care Plan

Oscar Health’s Telemedicine Use Five Times Greater than Health Insurance Average

Strategist Explains Key Trends in Healthcare’s Transformation

25th Annual Executive War College Conference on Laboratory and Pathology Management

Cleveland Clinic Gives Patients Statewide 24/7 Access to Physicians through Smartphones, iPads, Tablets and Online: Will Telemedicine Also Involve Pathologists?

New service allows patients statewide to access urgent care via telephones and other devices as Cleveland Clinic positions itself to be a 24/7 provider of choice

Urgent care by telephone is the latest patient-centric and customer-friendly medical service to be offered by the Cleveland Clinic. It is also the first 24-hour online statewide healthcare service of its kind in Ohio, a milestone that has implications for pathologists and clinical laboratory executives because lab testing is often required in support of patients wanting access to urgent care, particularly after hours.

Express Care Online (formerly MyCare Online) is the Cleveland Clinic’s new telemedicine service. It enables patients to see a medical professional for urgent matters via computer or smartphone 24 hours a day/seven days a week, according to a Cleveland Clinic statement. (more…)