In these uncertain times while we transition to a post-COVID society, workplace healthcare and employer-provided health benefits are perhaps the most important factor for large-scale employers to address.
Since it’s so important for employees to understand the healthcare options provided by their companies. We have researched Amazon’s upcoming policies, here’s a quick summary of what to expect.
What Is Amazon Healthcare?
Amazon is planning to use its massive infrastructure to enter the field of healthcare. With their global distribution capabilities and online consumer-to-provider network, Amazon is poised to offer new and optimized healthcare services.
Amazon started with employee healthcare, but indications suggest that they may be planning to reach outside of their own employees to provide healthcare options to customers around the country.
We took a look at some of the avenues Amazon is using to enter the healthcare industry. Some of these are Amazon initiatives, while others are corporate acquisitions that Amazon has embraced in order to gain a foothold in this industry.
PillPack got its beginning through convenience delivery of daily medications. Initially, they delivered daily doses of prepackaged pills to customers, as an alternative to weekly medication preparation.
One of PillPack’s most significant selling points was that it bills the customer’s insurance company directly (even for shipping costs) and the customer only pays the copay amount for their prescriptions.
The company also touted their safety precautions. Each delivery and dose was checked at multiple stages to make sure it was the correct medicine, and there were no contraindications to avoid.
Amazon acquired PillPack in 2018, which was a significant challenge to the pharmacy giants in America such as Walgreens and CVS. The prescription drug market in America alone had exceeded $500 billion per year, and Amazon carved out a large market share with this acquisition.
Traditional pharmacies challenged Amazon’s drug delivery, claiming that it lacked face-to-face pharmacist attention. But with the safeguards created by PillPack and the overhead savings of delivery without storefront locations, PillPack by Amazon Pharmacy continues to thrive.
As Amazon continues to edge into the pharmacy sector, it appears that customers are benefitting from the cost savings and quick delivery.
However, it is worth a degree of caution, as this move is disenfranchising pharmacy benefit managers, the organizations and companies who work to regulate prescription drug costs. Allowing an Amazon monopoly to grow may end up hurting customers in the long run.
In 2019, Amazon launched a virtual healthcare system for its employees at their Seattle workspaces and their families, called Amazon Care.
Leveraging their expertise with informatics systems, Amazon Care showcased the latest innovations in telemedicine. Amazon supplemented this telemedicine with in-person care at local clinics, and partnered with some of the most successful local doctors and medical service providers in Seattle.
The Amazon Care system was particularly suited for the COVID-19 epidemic, because it integrated online features such as video call visits with doctors and nurses. All of the remote features were available through a mobile application.
The demand for online access to healthcare increased during the Covid-19 pandemic
Amazon Care also works with local pharmacies and PillPack by providing necessary prescriptions. The system will also schedule follow-up appointments or even home visits if necessary.
Amazon also intends to integrate informatics into digital record keeping and cloud storage. With Amazon’s cloud storage already developed, it will be a simple matter for customers to keep their medical records safe and secure along with their other online digital content and information.
Their scheduling and delivery systems are helping their employees get the care they need with minimal impact to their own schedules and demands. The remote services reduce waiting times and eliminate travel times.
To alleviate concerns about medical privacy, Amazon is also contracting a go-between company to isolate their employees’ medical needs from their immediate work environment. The provider company, called Oasis, is a separate legal subsidiary.
Haven is no longer in operation as of February 2021.
Haven was a joint venture between Amazon, Berkshire-Hathaway, and JP Morgan. Their intention was to form a company that would “make primary care easier to access, insurance benefits simpler to understand and easier to use, and prescription drugs more affordable,” according to their website.
The three founding parties had an ambitious goal to get medical cost inflation under control. However, that goal failed to come to fruition due to the lack of realistic ideas and implementable measures. Investors quickly lost confidence as time passed without documented progress.
After less than three years, the company disbanded. All three founding companies have repeated their individual commitment to controlling medical costs within their own organizations.
Smart speakers, or devices with a voice-user interface (VUI) are rapidly changing the way users interact with devices and get information. Alexa is the Amazon VUI, comparable to Siri (Apple) and Google’s basic VUI.
These VUIs are also transforming the way users access healthcare and get medical attention. Amazon is leading the charge, having made Alexa compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This compliance allows Amazon to access and store sensitive medical data with the assurance that this data is being handled responsibly.
Amazon VUI devices are now being gradually rolled-out in medical centers and assisted living communities around the country. Patients and residents can ask these devices for assistance, and these requests get categorized and delivered to the most appropriate providers. Requests are even escalated when not handled within an appropriate time frame.
The devices are helping these customers cross through technology barriers when it comes to their own medical care. Senior citizens are making full use of VUI, which in most cases is easier than other, non-verbal interfaces.
Alexa can also help with daily activity planning, and other lifestyle-based programs that can be effective in prolonging health and forestalling urgent medical care, especially for older customers. Scheduling applications that have been effective in family management are also proving effective in assisted living communities, by providing medication reminders and other services.
Amazon Comprehend Medical
According to the Amazon web services page, Amazon Comprehend Medical is “a HIPAA-eligible natural language processing (NLP) service that uses machine learning to extract health data from medical text–no machine learning experience is required.”
There’s a lot of technical jargon in this statement, so let us try to unpack it for you.
First, HIPAA-eligible means that the Amazon Comprehend Medical system is fully certified to safely and responsibly handle your medical data.
‘Natural language processing’ (NLP) and ‘machine learning’ are informatics terms that relate to how systems interact with users and grow from that interaction.
NLP helps online systems listen to regular, everyday users (such as medical patients) who do not have specialized training. These systems can understand user-inputted symptoms and requests, and return usable advice and diagnostics that the same everyday users can understand.
Machine learning is the quality that allows these systems to improve over time and with patient interaction, so that each user experience is more proficient than the one before it. Ideally, this system will grow to a point where it can seamlessly communicate with patients with very little or even no computer experience.
Amazon Comprehend Medical efficiently provides patients with information on medical conditions, medications and dosages, tests and diagnostics, and treatments and procedures. During each process, users can be assured that their medical data is secure.
Amazon is getting involved in several branches of healthcare, starting with employee healthcare services. They are also branching into remote scheduling and patient-doctor communication, prescription drug delivery, and leveraging the latest in healthcare informatics to produce the most accurate and secure medical care.
Amazon’s employee healthcare is called Amazon Care, and Amazon may be positioning this healthcare service to make it available to non-employees in the near future.
Amazon’s Alexa device is a HIPAA-certified service enabling anyone with an Alexa-capable device to get medical help through its VUI technology.
As mentioned above, PillPack by Amazon Pharmacy is the prescription drug delivery service. PillPack was bought by Amazon, rather than developed in-house, but their service measures up to Amazon standards.
Finally, Amazon’s informatics advancements are leading the way in making automated healthcare a reality, through smart learning and natural language processing.
Amazon’s existing infrastructure and technology give it a significant advantage in entering the healthcare field. Traditional pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, stand to lose a great percentage of the market share due to Amazon’s efficient direct order and delivery systems.
Technology and market analysis has suggested that Amazon is the second best big tech company poised to enter the healthcare industry, just after Google.
Amazon has direct distribution to 300 million active customers. That’s nearly the population of the United States. Furthermore, they have access to five million distributors. Entering the healthcare market with this level of distribution is a huge head start.
Their employee pool is also vast, with a large variety in socioeconomic status and other demographic information. In fact, their large testing ground and aggregated consumer demand grants it one of the largest data pools to begin providing healthcare services and continue to learn and grow that service.
Amazon also has a large experimental and developmental budget due to the liquidity of their ecosystem. This gives them the strength to invest into, and test various aspects of healthcare that other smaller companies are reluctant to try.
Benefits of Amazon’s Approach
Amazon typically applies a four-step process to integrating new services and ideas:
- Offer an innovative and exciting new service to attract user experiences
- Invest in infrastructure
- Improve customer experience through standardization and structure
- Make the process transparent so that small vendors can get involved
With its huge volume of existing customers, it can easily get user feedback. Amazon also has had pretty successful results with infrastructure development, with only a few notable failures.
When smaller businesses start to get involved, the Amazon model really takes off, giving Amazon a vast influx of useful data that it can use to improve the experience for both consumers and providers.
Amazon and Medicare/Medicaid
Although Amazon claims to accept most medical insurance providers, this is an ever-changing market with frequent specific demands.
It is always best to check to see if Amazon Pharmacy is covered by your insurance policy before placing orders.
Amazon Pharmacy will typically show comparison options for consumers with or without insurance, to help each customer get the best deal with lowest cost to themselves.
The number of medicare advantage plans available for beneficiaries increased significantly over the last two years
Amazon and Providers
Amazon is continuously adding new providers to their partnership efforts in healthcare services.
Not only is it acquiring new providers, but Amazon is also using its technology and platform to help outside physicians, hospitals, and providers.
Amazon’s platform has the opportunity to reduce the administrative burdens on these medical providers, allowing them to streamline their services and lower costs to the patients and insurance companies.
Amazon is investing in the developments that small providers cannot afford to. Most providers prefer to make up for shortfalls with increased hiring of medical and administrative personnel. It becomes clear that Amazon is best positioned for technological advancements in this field.
Alexa and Medical Records
Because Alexa is HIPAA-certified, users and patients are assured that their medical records are being handled in responsible, secure ways.
Alexa was the first VUI to get HIPAA certification, and is currently still the only VUI that is HIPAA-compliant. Siri, Google, Cortana, and others do not have the same level of patient data security required for workplace healthcare.
Amazon and the Healthcare Cloud
One of the frequent challenges of modern healthcare is data and records portability. Especially for employees who are geographically-mobile, keeping track of personal records in a safe and secure manner is difficult. Most patients have no experience or training to keep their own medical data secure.
Amazon’s Cloud storage has a high standard of security and integrity. Although there is no HIPAA compliance certificate for cloud storage services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), AWS has met higher security standards by complying with FedRAMP and NIST 800-53 guidelines.
Using Amazon’s cloud storage options for healthcare records, customers can access their medical data anywhere, safely and securely, and have confidence that information will not get lost during relocation or changes in healthcare providers.
Why Did Haven Shut Down?
Haven’s ambitious goal of reforming the healthcare industry and halting cost inflation may not have been attainable for the companies that joined together in that effort.
In the three years that Haven was operating, very few executable ideas came to fruition. This lack of progress discouraged investors, who began withdrawing from the venture.
Additionally, each of the founding companies developed different ideas of the direction to take the new healthcare industry. As such, it became clear that their goals could better be achieved by working independently of each other.
As of February 2021, Haven is no longer offering healthcare services. Haven clients have been re-integrated into their original employer’s healthcare plan.
Does Amazon Sell Health Insurance?
Right now, Amazon only offers health insurance to its own employees. Amazon Care has been implemented in their Seattle workplaces.
This insurance plan was offered by Haven until that company was dissolved. Now Amazon directly provides insurance to employees.
Although plans are currently limited to employees, there are rumors that Amazon intends to make insurance plans available to sellers and Amazon vendors. However, Amazon has not commented directly on this possibility.
The healthcare industry is rapidly changing; even more so in our post-COVID society. Amazon is on the forefront of this changing industry. Some of Amazon’s initiatives, such as prescription drug delivery, are already taking over a huge market share.
With its vast infrastructure, integration of informatics, and huge data pool of consumer and user data, Amazon is poised to make a big entrance into healthcare.