Can Amazon help deliver health advice and treatment as efficiently as it delivers items to your doorstep?
That was the question I asked myself as I tested the company’s latest foray into healthcare.
Launched earlier this month, Amazon Clinic offers message-based care for 18 conditions such as pink eye and male pattern hair loss for adults ages 18-64. Users can request certain types of contraception or refill prescriptions for high cholesterol or asthma, among other conditions.
Amazon Clinic operates in 32 states, using third-party digital health companies like SteadyMD and HealthTap. People can order treatments from pharmacies, including another Amazon health company, Amazon Pharmacy.
Amazon Clinic is the company’s latest attempt to break into the lucrative and complicated healthcare industry.
The Seattle-based tech giant previously targeted the primary care market with Amazon Care, a hybrid of virtual and in-home services, but is closing that service by the end of the year. It is also spending $3.9 billion to acquire primary care company One Medical.
Amazon Clinic is a lighter service than Amazon Care. One analyst called the model “a very capital-intensive way” to deliver care.
Based on my test, I found the service to be convenient and straightforward, and the healthcare provider provided treatment advice efficiently through a message-based interface.
I suffer from a common ailment treated by Amazon Clinic: motion sickness. I thought the clinic might line up a pill for the next time I get a cheery invitation for an afternoon sailing trip.
Amazon Clinic’s landing page provided links to information about its treatment options for motion sickness, which gave me an idea of what to expect. I logged in with my Amazon account and set a PIN.
I was then presented with a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) authorization allowing the transfer of health information to providers on my behalf.
Given Amazon’s sprawling data set of consumer buying behavior, the company’s handling of personal health information comes under scrutiny.
My mom taught me to read all contracts, so I skimmed through Amazon Clinic’s HIPPA form and a page that more clearly described how the service uses health data. The legalese slowed me down, and clearer language in advance would have made me feel safer to authorize the release.
I described my symptoms and answered broader questions about my medical history, mostly through checklists. The department also asked me an open-ended question at the end: “Is there anything else you would like to share with your clinician?” »
I clicked “place your order” and paid the $30 consultation fee. Consultation fees vary by provider and are not covered by insurance.
The service asked me which pharmacy I wanted to use, offering Amazon Pharmacy as an option. My local family pharmacy, Katterman’s, was also listed in their database.
Within ten minutes on a Friday afternoon, I received a text message and an email alert. I logged into the portal where a nurse had introduced herself and referred to me by my first name. She left a message about the pros and cons of two drugs and a prescription patch behind her ear.
I asked about the difference between the pills and how long they last. Another ten minutes passed and I had answers.
There was more back and forth, and eventually I got a recommendation for an over-the-counter medication, Meclizine. I also received advice like avoiding reading on the move and taking ginger, a common remedy.
The interaction was professional, pleasant and clear — and it was easy. The fee also includes two weeks for follow-up messages after the initial consultation.
Symptom checklists and standardization of clinical questions and answers allow for an efficient transaction. But treatments for conditions like motion sickness or sinus infections are straightforward compared to most healthcare, and more medically complex conditions can be harder to fit into the format.
It’s unclear how Amazon makes money from Amazon Clinic and whether it shares revenue with third-party telehealth providers.
Potential competitors include startups offering options for conditions such as hair loss and sexual health, including Ro, Hims & Hers and Thirty Madison.
Amazon Clinic is part of a growing trend to provide “asynchronous care” through message-based systems. The model removes time-consuming face-to-face interactions and provides the ability for precise text communication.
Having an affordable online option like Amazon Clinic, connected to a well-known brand like Amazon, could help people seek care for common conditions they would otherwise ignore and help them get prescriptions refills.
But some people might miss face-to-face interactions. Short visits help build a relationship with a clinician who can help prevent serious health issues down the line. It will be interesting to see how Amazon integrates Amazon Clinic into One Medical.
Along with Amazon Clinic, One Medical and Amazon Pharmacy, Amazon is building multiple entry points for consumers to access medical care through the tech giant. Products like Amazon’s Halo View health band and a recently launched bedside sleep tracker provide another avenue for integration and could be used to remind people to refill prescriptions at Amazon Pharmacy.
The resulting health datasets could be large. Amazon could go further and offer incentives to combine private health data with its consumer information and that data could be used to create predictive models, some industry experts say.
Amazon Clinic’s healthcare delivery model frees Amazon from the difficult task of aligning healthcare workers and physical infrastructure, which Amazon Care needed.
Working with third-party vendors will “likely be the case in terms of how we work in healthcare,” Aaron Martin, Amazon’s chief healthcare officer, said at a recent event.
Given the size, complexity and potential of technology to further transform the healthcare market, the sector has emerged as one of the most likely industries where Amazon could find a fourth pillar of its business, alongside its three existing ones: Amazon Web Services, Amazon Prime, and Amazon Marketplace.
And Amazon appears determined to continue investing in healthcare despite recent layoffs and cuts to other parts of its business. In a memo to employees about the job cuts, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy called health care one of “the company’s new initiatives that we’ve been working on for several years and that we have the conviction to continue”.
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