Amazon Care gears up to offer a smoother patient journey in the US
Amazon has set out to improve the healthcare experience of employees by joining up the different parts of the patient journey and delivering care at their convenience. Building on its experience in optimizing home delivery in the retail sector, Amazon has positioned itself to give new meaning to patient centricity with a health insurance service that offers employees a more coordinated journey.
Enter Amazon Care
Amazon Care was launched in September 2019 to give Amazon’s staff in Washington state access to primary and urgent care services, as an add-on to their existing health insurance plans. To be eligible, employees must be enrolled in an Aetna or Premera Blue Cross health plan sponsored by Amazon. Through the Amazon Care app, available for devices on newer versions of iOS and Android, users can arrange for care to be delivered virtually or in person.
The virtual care offering especially supports preventive care, through health screenings and lifestyle advice, and provides help with topics such as nutrition, pre-pregnancy planning and quitting smoking. In-person care is delivered with two types of service: a visit from a nurse or doctor at home or in a designated room on Amazon’s campus, and home delivery of certain prescriptions. The visiting medical practitioner performs a range of services from routine blood draws and vaccination jabs to assessing and treating illnesses and injuries. Home-based care services are provided by Care Medical, an external company working with Amazon on an exclusive contract, and are only available for Amazon employees living in the Seattle area.
In March 2021, Amazon Care announced its services would be available to other Washington-based companies with immediate effect, and that by summer 2021, it would start to expand its virtual care to other businesses and Amazon employees in all 50 states of the US. Roll-out of in-person care will be slower, starting with Washington, D.C., Baltimore and other cities in the coming months.
Employees can enrol in Amazon Care for free, and Amazon subsidizes the costs for the virtual service. However, patients must cover the costs of in-home care. These services are not billed to a health insurance by the clinician and don’t count toward a user’s deductible on their insurance.
A well-timed offering
Although telehealth is an established offering in the US, Covid-19 has propelled its acceptance and popularity, prompting companies to expand their services in primary and urgent care accordingly.
Amazon’s announcement coincided with that of UnitedHealth Group, the largest US insurance payer by number of members insured, as its subsidiary Optum launched a new virtual care service in all US states. Roy Schoenberg, president and co-CEO of Amwell, a leading US virtual healthcare provider, confirmed this trend, saying that “While telehealth usage skyrocketed during the pandemic, its staying power will depend on patients and providers’ ongoing experience with it”. This is exactly where Amazon, with its high scores in customer satisfaction for its home delivery service, can also make a difference in improving the customer experience in healthcare.
The Amazon promise: it’s all about experience and convenience
Amazon Care offers an attractive combination of speed, convenience and transparency. By enabling 24/7 virtual access to medical professionals in 60 seconds or less — and offering real-time translation — it cuts waiting and travel times and makes healthcare more accessible.
Scheduled in-home visits and delivery of prescriptions from morning to evening also make for a better health experience. For the former, the app offers a feature similar to one that Amazon pioneered for its retail business, providing live updates of the estimated arrival time of medical staff who later on send a care summary to the app with diagnoses, prescriptions or recommended follow-up actions for the patient. At the patient’s request, medical records can be sent to other healthcare providers. Care Medical then sends an electronic bill for at-home visits to the patient which they can submit to their insurer.
To ensure a smooth healthcare experience, Amazon has piloted the service internally, improved it, and is rolling it out to other companies as well as its US-based staff.
A more seamless and connected healthcare journey
Amazon understands that today’s healthcare experience is fragmented, with isolated incidences of care being the main way of working, and insufficient communication between those involved in the different episodes of care. In addition, healthcare is more orientated toward curing than preventing illnesses and patients are demanding more satisfying experiences, including better access to care. Amazon Care is addressing this challenge in a rare, combined approach that relies on the use of technology and patients taking an active role in looking after their health.
Working with selected health insurers, Amazon Care narrows service gaps in the healthcare system, especially with its focus on prevention and supporting healthy lifestyles as well as allowing customers to take care of their health at convenient times and in the comfort of their homes. The option to schedule in-home visits, with even the same practitioner to build a trusted relationship, adds to a positive user experience. The fact that the care summary is sent to the patient and, if requested, to their other healthcare providers overcomes the disrupted flow of information and creates a connected healthcare journey that’s bound to lead to more patient safety.
Amazon builds up its healthcare capabilities
Amazon Care is the company’s first foray into offering its healthcare services to others beyond its workforce. The announcement came only a few months after Haven, Amazon’s healthcare venture for its workforce only, was closed because the company couldn’t negotiate the favourable prices with health insurers that it needed to run profitably.
In the past few years, Amazon has built out a portfolio that joins together diverse parts of healthcare to make the patient journey safer and clearer. Making clinical records accessible faster, collecting self-tracking data as well as clinical data, analysing data to generate insights and shifting care, where possible, closer to the home are the pillars of Amazon’s healthcare approach.
Its portfolio comprises of Amazon Comprehend Medical, a natural language processing service announced in 2018 that uses machine learning to pull health data out of medical text, and Amazon Pharmacy, its online pharmacy offer, launched in the same year, based on its PillPack acquisition. In 2019, the company added Amazon Transcribe Medical, a medical speech-to-text service, followed a year later by Amazon Halo, a wristband that delivers body composition information and voice analysis and tracks sleep and activity.
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.
Amazon’s entry into the healthcare market with Amazon Care has a good chance to push innovation and raise the bar on performance for traditional healthcare providers. It has the potential to lower healthcare costs and improve the quality and convenience of care, although the pricing for its virtual and in-home care services haven’t yet been made public. It will be interesting to see if Amazon comes into conflict in the future, with its large health systems and enterprise clients hosting their data on Amazon Web Services.
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