Amazon’s virtual-first healthcare program, Amazon Care, first launched in September 2019 and now its reach seems to be expanding. Through Amazon Care, treatment for non-emergency conditions can be accessed through a virtual visit, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. Amazon is bringing the efficiency of its retail presence to healthcare and aims to connect users with healthcare professionals within 60 seconds.
Amazon’s virtual care has an additional focus on preventative care, helping keep members healthy and hopefully out of the hospital. On top of providing virtual care, Amazon can also dispatch medical professionals to patients’ homes. Just like the rest of the company’s offerings, Amazon Care is all about choice and convenience: everything can be done rapidly from the comfort of your own home, from initial consultation to receiving your prescription.
The service is provided to workforces by employers – including Amazon itself – in a limited number of US states:
‘Amazon Care is currently live in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore region, and will be rolled out in additional cities in 2021, including Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Los Angeles “just to name a few,” Kristen Helton, the director of Amazon Care, said at the annual HLTH conference’.
Caring for employee wellbeing
In an article by Amazon Staff, they commented that ‘by supplying Amazon Care as a workplace benefit, employers are investing in the health and well-being of arguably their most important asset: their employees.’ This is a wonderful sentiment, but given Amazon’s reputation regarding conditions in their warehouses it is hard to reconcile these two images of the company.
‘Amazon Care does offer some services that have been overlooked by larger vendors, including joint care. …That could be a major plus for Amazon, as employers are starting to face the risk of potential short- and long-term disability claims bubbling up over the next year or so due to work from home, and may be willing to pay a premium to head those off.’
Amazon has also dealt with its fair share of complaints about joint issues from staff in its warehouses, so this may be something it is offering to support an identified need in its own workforce as opposed to simply a profit-making opportunity.
Previous employee care efforts such as their wellbeing chamber have fallen short, but Amazon Care seems to be a solid solution. Though employee wellbeing has not historically been Amazon’s strong suit, it is a welcome change to see it being prioritised.
Potential concerns about the platform
The retail side of Amazon supplies Amazon Care to its employees. This is a great benefit for staff, but it raises questions about what information the retail giant could access about employees if they also own their healthcare provider.
Amazon Care’s ‘care providers, including the physicians and nurses, are technically employed by a separate subsidiary called Oasis Medical. That provision ensures that Amazon won’t possess knowledge about its employees’ health that it’s not legally entitled to have.’
The relationship between Amazon and its care providers is somewhat murky. Amazon Care’s services are provided by Care Medical, but the exact nature of the relationship between the two is unclear. Care Medical’s LinkedIn simply states it is ‘an independent medical practice that provides health care to Amazon Care members’, but the branding is virtually identical to that of Amazon itself – including the signature arrow. When the phone number listed on official Care Medical documents was tested in March, it redirected to Amazon Care.
Like the rest of Amazon, profit margins will be important to Amazon Care. Haven, Amazon’s previous venture for workforce healthcare, was recently ‘closed because the company couldn’t negotiate the favourable prices with health insurers that it needed to run profitably’. This closure may have spurred on the decision to create and run a healthcare platform themselves.
‘In March 2021, Amazon revealed it was joining a home healthcare advocacy group that aims to promote home-based care. It has also started previewing Amazon HealthLake, which will allow healthcare providers and insurers, as well as pharmaceutical companies, to store and analyse vast amounts of healthcare data using machine learning.’
Pricing for Amazon Care’s services is still not public, but companies in the areas they serve can enquire for a quote. If the prices on Amazon are anything to go by, their healthcare service will have an extremely competitive price tag.
Amazon has the ability to undercut a lot of sellers on its site due to the company’s sheer size – they can afford slim profit margins because they shift so much stock – which presents a massive challenge for competitors. So far, their expansion has been slow, but it will be interesting to see whether they bring similar low prices to the healthcare space – and if so, what this will mean for those competing with them.
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