As Amazon moves into healthcare and turns its efficiency machine into medicine, some experts say the industry could change in a big way.
That mountain is certainly steep. Amazon has already spent years investing heavily in health care, with mixed results. company last year ended their Haven joint venture with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase. Recently announced plans to close your first virtual Amazon Care service.
But Amazon signaled its continued interest in health care this summer when it announced its acquisition of primary care group One Medical for $3.9 billion. The deal, which would be Amazon’s third largest acquisition in history, still being reviewed by regulators.
Given the size, complexity, and potential for technology to further transform the healthcare market, the sector has become one of the most likely industries where Amazon you could find a fourth pillar of your businessalong with its three existing ones: Amazon Web Services, Amazon Prime, and Amazon Marketplace.
We spoke to healthcare industry leaders to learn more about how the tech giant could use its data and tech prowess to disrupt another market.
Amazon has a rich set of offerings that you can build on and scale
Amazon has already partnered with healthcare companies through Amazon Web Services for Health, supporting everything from finance and operations to medical research and patient-physician interactions. AWS provides tools to mine health data, collect revenue, power virtual care, and more.
The company is likely to expand on each of these efforts, expanding and linking them to devices like its Halo View health band, its Amazon.com e-commerce marketplace and its online pharmacy, Streat said.
from amazon planned acquisition One Medical’s acquisition, which would be the third-largest acquisition in its history, is similar to how Facebook (now Meta) acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, said Streat, whose startup grew out of the Providence digital innovation group.
“’We can take this little thing and put it in our engine, and it’s going to be amazing,’” Streat said of Facebook’s thinking. “And I think this is the same. If you’re Amazon, you think on that scale.”
Amazon logistics expertise can be useful for healthcare
The industry is plagued with inefficiencies, from delays in care, multiple follow-ups for testing, fragmented data systems, and supply chain issues. Experts said Amazon could partner across multiple health systems to eliminate inefficiency and help deliver supplies and services.
“Amazon’s extraordinary consumer e-commerce and supply chain management platform could be an unparalleled asset for selling and delivering products where they are needed,” the doctor said. ken mandldirector of the Computational Health Informatics Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Lee Schwammphysician and vice president of digital patient experience and virtual care at Mass General Brigham, said Amazon could be a “single vendor” and find a way to generate substantial revenue “the way it knows how to do it.”
Amazon, who acquired PillPack online pharmacy startup in 2018 and later thrown out Amazon Pharmacy in 2020 could also further blur the distinctions between care at home and care in a hospital or clinic. “He’s probably going to lead with diagnostics tied to asynchronous care delivery for certain specialty areas that could transition to 100% virtualized care,” said Streat, who previously co-founded C-SATS, a Seattle startup that used technology to qualify surgeons and was acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 2018.
An example would be diabetes management through home diagnostics, Streat said. “They can virtualize entire service lines,” she said. In the future, people may spend less time in the hospital recovering from illness and surgery and more time at home.
Health systems could benefit from Amazon’s data expertise
Amazon has the potential to help health systems manage their data, understand patient outcomes, and provide real-time feedback to doctors. With enough data, Amazon could help detect signs of illness early, predict patient outcomes, and even guide people toward health care or healthier eating choices.
“Medical care suffers from a lack of coordination that results in lengthy diagnostic odysseys, unnecessary and duplicate tests, and medical errors,” Mandl said. “One Medical could give AWS healthcare data integration and machine learning solutions a role in managing medical records and providing decision support for physicians and patients.”
Amazon already has access to huge data sets on consumer habits through its marketplace. And while health data is protected by federal privacy rules, the company could find a way to combine it with consumer data, such as offering incentives or discounts, Mandl said. You could also augment your data sets with connected services at home.
The result could be a large amount of information about each patient.
“That data fed into your data science technologies and teams will make them incredibly effective on the predictive side of the [health] equation,” Streat said.
There they are barriers to the effective use of data to predict and effect health outcomes. Consumer health data is a jumble, often siled across different health groups and beset by jargon that obscures meaning. Previous tech efforts to improve health care through data have failed, such as Google’s consumer effort. google health Y IBM Watson Health.
But ultimately, Amazon may overcome some of these difficulties as its software tools improve and its access to data expands. Ultimately, the company could even improve electronic medical record systems, widely seen as expensive, time-consuming and technologically inflexible, Streat said.
Matter of concern
Amazon will need to overcome data privacy concerns from both regulators and trading partners.
On the same day that Amazon announced the One Medical deal, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission.
“I also ask that the FTC consider the role of data, including as a potential barrier to entry, given that this proposed settlement could result in the accumulation of highly sensitive personal health data in the hands of a company that already uses a lot of data,” wrote. Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights.
Amazon also needs to be careful about how it collects and uses data to earn the trust of patients and doctors, a key factor in healthcare, said Shantanu Nundy, chief medical officer at healthcare company Accolade. “Medicine moves at the speed of trust,” he said.
The One Medical acquisition presents other potential problems for Amazon as it digs deeper into healthcare.
One Medical is a primary health care service and refers patients to other providers for specialized care.
But academic medical centers like Mass General Brigham make their margins by building a large patient base of primary cases that in turn supports specialty care. Amazon could potentially use its data to weed out wealthier, healthier patients, leaving hospitals to serve as a safety net for poorer ones, Schamm said. That could leave hospitals in financial jeopardy, Streat added, noting that rural health systems are particularly vulnerable.
Schwamm is also concerned that Amazon funnels specialty care through One Medical. Amazon could reserve “slots” with specialists, granting expedited access to its patients and skewing access to patients outside of its system.
Schwamm said that in certain scenarios, everyone wins in the long run: Amazon, existing health care groups and patients. Under a single-payer health system, for example, Amazon would contract with the government and hospitals would stay afloat, though that’s not a likely scenario and Amazon would likely resist, Schwamm said.
Health systems should start thinking now about how they will adjust to the entry of Amazon and other big tech players into health care, Schwamm said. He asks, “Do we find a way to collaborate and basically transform academic health systems into tertiary care networks, which is really what they should be, and let primary care evolve into something more fluid?”
“My prediction is that no one will get it right on the first pass,” Schwamm said. “But there is going to be a lot of learning going on.”