Amazon plans to expand its virtual health service benefit to all its U.S. employees this summer while also making it available to other companies.
Eighteen months ago, the tech giant announced it was piloting a new 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 on-demand healthcare service enables employees to connect with medical professionals via chat or video conference, typically in less than 60 seconds, and eliminates lengthy wait and travel times to get medical attention, Amazon said in a press release.
Starting Wednesday, Amazon Care is available to serve other Washington-based companies. Beginning this summer, Amazon Care will expand its virtual care to companies and Amazon employees in all 50 states. Amazon Care’s in-person service will expand to Washington, D.C., Baltimore and other cities in the coming months, the company said.
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.
The expansion of Amazon Care's virtual health services is an "exciting chess move" for the tech giant, said Taqee Khaled, head of strategy at digital consultancy Nerdery.
"A lot of folks will look at this on the outside and not realize how extensively Amazon has been preparing for this moment by obsessively striving to serve their own people exquisitely well. In their iterative process, where fast failure is not just expected but encouraged, they have tried and failed as much - or more - than they've succeeded," he said. "Along the way, they probably learned a lot and tabled several things for future use toward external competitive advantage. That they're ready to go national with this is a fearsome prospect for other [digital health] platforms."
Kevin Beasley, chief information officer at VAI, an enterprise resource development (ERP) company working in the healthcare supply chain, said Amazon Care can build off the tech giant's work with Amazon Pharmacy as it has been building up its fulfillment capabilities.
"Any time Amazon enters a new market, there usually will be an impact," he said. "The company is prepared to help more Americans access virtual and eventually in-person health services in the same way that they are used to – through a tech-enabled and convenient channel with Amazon. Healthcare providers and technology platforms should be taking note of how successful this venture will be, but it’s clear that their power in both e-commerce and the supply chain will bode well for the brand in healthcare."
Officials said Amazon Care will be able to help with urgent issues like colds, allergies, infections, minor injuries, preventive health consults, vaccines, lab work, sexual health services like contraception and sexually transmitted infection testing and general health questions.
Patients also can access preventive care such as annual vaccinations, health screenings and lifestyle advice. The service also supports patients’ wellness needs including nutrition, pre-pregnancy planning, sexual health, help to quit smoking and more, the tech giant said.
Amazon and other companies are increasingly focused on the home as a site of care. The company joined with Intermountain Healthcare and Ascension along with other health systems and home care companies to form the Moving Health Home coalition, which aims to change the way policymakers think about the home as a site of clinical service. The group is lobbying Congress to make permanent changes to home health care reimbursement policies.
Amazon officials said the program has received positive feedback from employees as the service is uniquely focused on patients and their changing needs. During shutdowns forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors’ offices were seeing fewer children for pediatric vaccines, so Amazon Care quickly adjusted its services to offer the vaccines in families’ homes, the company said.
Gina Baird, whose spouse works at Amazon, participated in the Amazon Care pilot program when her three-year-old daughter woke up at 2 a.m. with a terrible cough.
"Of course we were worried about COVID-19 and certainly did not want to go to an urgent care center or emergency room if we could avoid it,” said Baird in a statement in the Amazon press release. “Using Amazon Care, we were able to connect with a clinician in under a minute who provided medical advice that helped us get through the night. She also prescribed a medication that was delivered to our doorstep by 9 a.m. the next day. Thanks to Amazon Care, we were able to manage her illness without ever having to leave the house.”
Ashley Bennett, senior operations manager at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Kent, Washington, said the on-demand healthcare services offered by Amazon Care make her feel that she has more control over the system.
"It’s at my leisure. That’s power. I’m not waiting on someone else to show up on their schedule," Bennett said in a statement.
Amazon has been rapidly expanding its reach in the healthcare space, most notably in 2018 with its acquisition of online pharmacy PillPack. In November, the tech giant launched Amazon Pharmacy, the long-anticipated online storefront that will enable customers to purchase prescription drugs online and have them shipped to their homes.
Amazon started an ambitious health tech startup, Haven, with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway in 2018, but that venture shuttered in January.
The tech giant has instead pivoted to address healthcare costs by focusing on employee healthcare through primary care models. Amazon teamed up with trendy tech-enabled primary care group Crossover Health to launch health centers in five major regions—Dallas-Fort Worth, Phoenix, Louisville, Detroit and two California metro areas—to serve Amazon employees and their families.