Amazon offers virtual primary care to US employees


Amazon Care will include telemedicine, online chat with a nurse, medication delivery, and app-enabled house calls to the employee's office or home.  It can be used for healthcare issues like colds, infections or minor injuries, plus preventive health consults, vaccines, lab work, sexual health services and general health questions. Drugs can be delivered to employees' homes or picked up at a preferred pharmacy.

Employees are eligible for the virtual care offering if they are 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 cannot participate.

Amazon is not employing any doctors; instead the company is contracting with a local Washington clinic called Oasis Medical Group. Also, the offering is not 24-7, though it does have extended hours, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. It is not being offered or recommended for emergency care.

What if Amazon offers this to consumers?

Amazon is following in the footsteps of Apple, which quietly launched its own employee clinic network called AC Wellness in early 2018.  A key question is whether this will remain a service 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 by producing a parallel healthcare system.

If Amazon replaces the existing health care system bit by bit, and employees of self-insured companies migrate to this new digital health system, where does this leave insurers, healthcare managers, and healthcare providers?

Amazon is big enough to go it alone globally for employees, but when it moves into servicing others it has to integrate with their systems. It is not simple as adding tech, however good, on to the existing healthcare system as doing that could crash the lot.

What telemedicine offers here is for many healthcare services to be outsourced to cheaper countries, which is much harder in reality than theory as companies hit legal problems on duty of care to employees in choosing alternative providers,

This is separate from the Haven Healthcare project, its JV with Berkshire-Hathaway and JP Morgan. If Amazon Care is going to be offered more broadly eventually, it could connect with Haven, or several other Amazon entries into healthcare, such as the company's PillPack acquisition.

Amazon Care is a wake-up call for providers, payers, and employers. Telehealth is not just about video consults with a doctor or wearable fitness trackers. It is a new operating system for health, and big technology companies are not going to wait for others to figure it out. US healthcare providers, payers, and companies need to solve their healthcare problems before Amazon does it for them.



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