Amazon's latest push into digital health: A virtual clinic for common conditions like allergies and hair loss

LAS VEGAS—Amazon has rolled out a new virtual medical clinic that aims to treat common conditions like allergies, hair loss and skin conditions.

The message-based virtual health service connects consumers with licensed clinicians who can diagnose, treat and prescribe medication for a range of common health and lifestyle conditions, according to an Amazon blog post published Tuesday morning.

Amazon Clinic partners with third-party telehealth providers including SteadyMD and HealthTap, powered by Wheel, to provide virtual consultation services. Consumers will see upfront pricing for care and an estimated response time. The service creates synergies with Amazon Pharmacy to fill and deliver any medications Amazon Clinic users are prescribed.

Amazon Clinic will be cash pay and does not yet accept insurance, the company said. 

Speaking about Amazon Clinic during the HLTh 2022 conference Tuesday, Nworah Ayogu, M.D., Amazon's chief medical officer, said the online retail giant is "leading with its competency" of connecting customers to products and services they want. 

"We're connecting customers to providers who provide care. We're playing matchmaker and building a great customer experience. It’s a win-win," Ayogu said.

Aaron Martin, Amazon's vice president of healthcare, noted that Amazon's online retail marketplace predominantly features products and services from third-party vendors.

"I think you’re going to see that probably be the case with respect to how we work in healthcare," Martin said during HLTH 2022. "It’s going to be partnership-focused and enable our audience, the folks who are using, to find, discover and get access to some really awesome, innovative new technologies that might help them."

The new virtual health service marks the online retail giant's latest push into healthcare after it announced back in August that it would shutter its hybrid health service Amazon Care at the end of the year. The company piloted Amazon Care, which offered virtual urgent care and primary care services for employees and their families, in the Seattle region in 2019. Amazon Care then expanded rapidly with telehealth services available in all 50 states and in-person services in major metro areas.

The company also expanded into pharmacy services when it bought online pharmacy PillPack in 2018 and then later launched it as Amazon Pharmacy,

Amazon plans to buy primary care provider One Medical for $3.9 billion, and that deal will add 188 medical clinics in 29 markets. One Medical markets itself as membership-based, tech-integrated, consumer-focused primary care platform, and the company currently has 815,000 members.

Amazon Clinic will operate in 32 states and provide virtual care for more than 20 common health conditions, Nworah Ayogu, M.D., Amazon Clinic chief medical officer and general manager, wrote in the blog post.

The service will be available 24/7 through and on the Amazon mobile app.

"Amazon Pharmacy and One Medical (once the deal closes) are two key ways we’re working to make care more convenient and accessible. But we also know that sometimes you just need a quick interaction with a clinician for a common health concern that can be easily addressed virtually," Ayogu wrote in the blog post. "We’ve thought hard about how to improve this part of the experience as well."

"We believe that improving both the occasional and ongoing engagement experience is necessary to making care dramatically better," Ayogu wrote, referring to the new service as a "health care store."

Many startups including Ro, Hims & Hers and Thirty Madison offer similar virtual care services to provide birth control and treat conditions like hair loss, skin conditions and sexual health. As Amazon broadens its footprint in direct-to-consumer healthcare services, it will likely put pressure on other digital health players.

Amazon’s business model is to eliminate the friction in transactions like ordering online that is common elsewhere, noted Michael Abrams, managing partner of Numerof & Associates.

"In its effort to carve out a place for itself in healthcare, it is sticking with that same general model. Make it easy for the customer to get what they want," Abrams told Fierce Healthcare.

While there are a number of telehealth providers that address common conditions like hair loss and acne, those providers don't have Amazon's reach, he noted.

"And not all of them can seamlessly fill a prescription or an over-the-counter product that might come out of the telehealth visit. And most of them can’t seamlessly refer the patient to an appropriate physician in their area for in-person consultation if that is needed - which Amazon almost certainly plans on doing once they close their acquisition of One Medical," he said.
Abrams also noted that Amazon Clinic is, at present, directed at consumers 18-64 who are not beneficiaries of government-payer programs like Medicare or Medicaid.

"By foregoing coverage by government and commercial plans, the service is effectively fee-for-service at rates competitive with insurance co-pays. By keeping the application narrow – 20 or so specific health problems – the whole structure is designed for a specific use, making it more predictable and easier to manage. In the future, the service could incorporate stronger linkage to Amazon Pharmacy, Amazon Diagnostics, and One Medical," he said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from Amazon's chief medical officer.