Is Amazon Readying A Massive Telehealth Play? Almost Certainly, Yes

Anyone who’s watched Amazon operate over the past two decades knows that there if there’s one key principle baked into its culture, it’s this: “Have no fear.”  Risks that would have cowed virtually any other company — such as going headfirst into the grocery business — don’t seem to phase its leadership.

This has been true for much of its lifespan. Decades ago, I remember thinking that the idea of Amazon – then a successful but deeply niched digital bookseller – taking over and absolutely crushing other e-commerce categories was just nuts. Sure, Amazon might have solved some challenging retail problems and attracted a lot of eyeballs, but how would it ever make the leap into an e-commerce superstore that could hold its own against large and well-funded competitors?  It didn’t seem likely.

Over the several years, as I’ve watched Amazon continue to dominate, well, the entire US economy by some measures, healthcare has gradually appeared in its sites, and now, if the buzz out there is correct, the e-commerce giant Is set to make a play which could have an outsized impact on the industry as a whole.

Over the past few years, Amazon has popped in the news from time to time with news of its ongoing efforts to expand its healthcare footprint.  One theme that has emerged fairly often is its work to expand the presence of its Alexa voice assistant in healthcare, most recently announcing that it was making it possible for voice assistant developers to offer HIPAA-compliant services for the Alexa platform

Then, in 2019, Amazon made a much bigger splash in the industry, spending $753 million to buy online pharmacy Pill Pack.  This set the stage for the e-retailing giant to fight for a share of the immense retail pharmacy market, a move that while a risk even for a player the size of Amazon also began to set Amazon up for offering a broader range of healthcare options.

Later that year, Amazon announced the launch of Amazon Care, a program bringing together telehealth services with access to in-person doctor and nurse visits.  Amazon Care was just a pilot serving only Amazon’s Seattle employees and their families, but the effort didn’t go unnoticed by people like me who watch the tech giant like a hawk when it makes healthcare moves.

Now, it looks like these steps – along with others getting far less news coverage – are coming together to form the basis for Amazon to launch a comprehensive telehealth service. If Amazon can pull off something like this, it could well change the dynamics of the exploding telehealth industry as a whole.  Plus, it’s a very different approach to telehealth than their Amazon Chime product.

According to Business Insider,  Amazon is pitching the telehealth service to major employers such as Zillow.  Their employees who are based near the Amazon headquarters will get access to both online and in-person medical visits, while those elsewhere will receive just the virtual care.

To date, Amazon has refused to comment on rumors about its plans. However, not only does the news seem credible, it seems like something the $1.6T retailer all but has to do soon. With telehealth becoming such a central part of care delivery, even giants like Amazon can’t afford to seem unprepared or lacking the insight needed to make sure such a large effort work. As Amazon’s Haven effort with Berkshire Hathaway and Chase just folded up its tent, some are saying that the only thing that might have come from the Haven experiment was Amazon Care and there’s no reason to see why Amazon wouldn’t keep it expanding this and other telehealth efforts.  Expect to see some big news arising from Amazon on this front soon.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

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