Report: Amazon is planning to open primary care clinics at Seattle headquarters

Online retail giant Amazon's foray into tackling healthcare costs might just start with really convenient primary care.

Specifically, primary care clinics for its employees located right at its Seattle headquarters, CNBC reported Thursday afternoon. 

According to the report, the technology company is in discussions to open clinics, hiring a small number of doctors for a limited group of employees by the end of this year. They have plans to expand in early 2019, the network reported.

In an email to FierceHealthcare, Amazon declined to comment.

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In April, CNBC reported Amazon decided to scrap plans to sell drugs to hospitals. Experts said the move was at least in part because hospitals are very set in their ways when it comes to supply chain management.

This is part of a shift on the part of employers in becoming more aggressive about empowering their employees to make better health choices, said Rita Numerof, president of St. Louis, Missouri-based healthcare consulting firm Numerof & Associates. The impact of what Amazon is doing will only be as good as the program design, the expectations that they and their employees have, the measures that are in place, their clinicians and their execution, she said.

That being said: "I would never bet against Amazon and I have great confidence that they’ll do it well," said Numerof, author of the book Bringing Value to Healthcare: Practical Steps for Getting to a Market-Based Model. "And under Atul Gawande’s leadership, he’s very concerned about transparency and quality and appropriateness of care and engagement of the consumer so I think that this has high probability of being very successful."

Sean Hartzell, an associate principal specializing in health care at ECG Management Consultants in Washington, D.C., said the market will respond to this news because of the sheer size and technical capability of Amazon. 

He said he’ll be watching to see how players like UnitedHealthcare, which has so many pieces of the healthcare business under its umbrella, will respond to this move. But he’s also interested in seeing how other major employers respond as Amazon’s plans become more clear.

“I think you could very easily see you could almost have a primary care on-call service, not unlike if you go back to the beginning of the heady days of the dot-com era, I think we’re there again. You’re going to be here at the office all the time and we’re going to have a dry cleaner for you, we’re going to have meals, we’re going have these cool things for you to 'play' with,” Hartzell said. “As that cohort of employees is aging, now healthcare is becoming more important than a dry cleaning service and the ability to get a slushy drink whenever you want. If I play that out, now they’re saying: ‘You want health care benefits? We’ll do you one better and offer a primary care service that you can go to any time.'"