Amazon expanding virtual care service to 5 additional cities this year

Amazon continues to eye the employer market with its Amazon Care service and plans to expand to five major cities this year, an executive at the online retail giant said this week.

The company plans to roll out its hybrid care model, which combines virtual care services as well as in-home care, to Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Los Angeles, Amazon Care Director Kristen Lloyd Helton, Ph.D., confirmed during the HLTH 2021 conference in Boston this week.

Amazon Care’s in-person care service had been limited to Washington state, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, but Helton teased that Amazon Care might be expanding to other markets beyond those five cities this year as well.

"Employers want to retain their talent. They are very invested in health and safety but we're absolutely also looking at outcomes. We want to make sure that the services we provide are improving health and also, eventually, lowering costs. It’s a keen area of interest for the business and a keen interest for employers," Helton said during an interview with CNBC's Bertha Coombs.

RELATED: Amazon Care may be coming to another 20 U.S. cities: report

In September 2019, Amazon launched a pilot of its virtual health service benefit for employees and their families in the Seattle region called Amazon Care.

The service offers virtual visits, in-person primary care visits at patients' homes or offices and prescription delivery. The company then opened up the medical business to employers around the country this summer by offering its virtual care service to companies and Amazon employees in all 50 states.

When pressed about competition in the virtual care market from big players like Teladoc and Amwell, Helton said Amazon Care stands out for its "patient-centered focus."

"It's just inherent in how we as Amazon approach and deliver a service and design it. That’s at the heart of everything that we do—making experiences easy, friction-free and super convenient for our patients," she said.

Amazon partners with Care Medical, which provides medical services for the app-based Amazon Care.

Services include video care, in-app text chat with clinicians, mobile care visits, prescription delivery from a care courier and in-person care, where Amazon Care can dispatch a medical professional to a patient’s home for services ranging from routine blood draws to listening to a patient’s lungs.

"We're not able to solve an issue virtually, then we can bring care directly to the patient in their home and, in doing that, we’re building their trust that we’re going to solve whatever problem they have and that gives them the confidence to start virtual and that's how we will take them through that entire journey and give them great care," she said.

In June, Amazon Care executive Babak Parviz said the tech giant has signed on multiple employers to its healthcare service as part of the national expansion of its virtual health service benefit. One of Amazon Care's clients is Precor, a Washington-based fitness equipment company that was acquired by Peloton.

Parviz said Amazon was committed to eventually expanding the full Amazon Care service, including in-person services, to all 50 states.

About 40,000 people were enrolled in Amazon Care as of earlier this summer, the executives said, though that's heavily weighted toward Amazon employees, Insider reported in September.

Helton said Amazon is focused on maintaining the quality of the service as it rolls out to other markets. "As we're scaling, we want to make sure customer satisfaction remains high, that's a primary area of focus. As you scale, that service you were piloting in the greater Seattle area is still really solid in terms of quality and other metrics we're looking at," she said.

RELATED: Amazon plans to expand Amazon Care virtual health service nationally to employees, other companies

She added that patients now have higher expectations for how they interact with healthcare providers as the pandemic rapidly shifted to digital and virtual care services.

"Patients are losing patience. They have a high standard and expect a lot from us. They're asking us to do more. We’re hearing that from a clinical services standpoint, they wanted primary care, and so we’re doing that," she said. "We're also hearing they want more self-serve, and so we’re building that. In terms of, they want a COVID test, but they don’t want to interface, they just want to schedule it, show up and get results. And they want to be able to self-schedule an in-person care visit as well."

Amazon also opened up neighborhood healthcare clinics for warehouse workers and their families.

"We see it as different on-ramps for healthcare services," Helton said. "Our job is to listen to the customer whenever they start and make that journey seamless and excellent and deliver high-quality care. The bar is really high. And it’s on all of us to give patients what they are asking for."

Insider reported that in 2022 Amazon is proposing to bring in-person Amazon Care to 16 more cities, bringing the total number of new additions to 20: Atlanta; Denver; Detroit; Houston; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles; Miami; Minneapolis; Nashville, Tennessee; New York; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; San Francisco; San Jose, California; and St. Louis.