Amazon dives into health care services market with telemedicine app


Amazon is making its foray into health care services, announcing that it will be offering its Amazon Care telemedicine program to employers nationwide.

Amazon Care is an app that enables users to connect with doctors, nurse practitioners and nurses virtually, 24 hours a day, via in-app chat or video. Amazon said Wednesday that the service, originally created for its Washington-based employees, is now available to other companies in Washington state. Amazon Care will expand nationally to all Amazon workers and other interested companies across the country this summer.

“Making this available to other employers is a big step,” Amazon Care Director Kristen Helton said. “It’s an opportunity for other forward-thinking employers to offer a service that helps bring high-quality care, convenience and peace of mind.”

While Amazon has launched other initiatives in the health field such as Amazon Pharmacy and Amazon Halo — a wristband that measures a person’s vital statistics — the expansion of Amazon Care is the tech giant’s first attempt at providing health care services beyond its own workforce.

Helton said that when users log in to the Amazon Care app, they are asked a couple of questions that serve to triage the call, before routing it to a nurse, nurse practitioner or physician as appropriate. She said it usually takes 60 seconds or less to connect users to a health professional.

Amazon has spent years searching for a way to enter the health care space. In 2018, the company partnered with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to create a new health care company. That effort eventually became Haven, a joint venture that disbanded last month.

Around the same time as the failed merger, Amazon had launched Amazon Care for its Washington state employees. Helton said users have given it superior reviews, and business customers were inquiring about being able to buy into the service. Amazon Care is designed to serve as an additional benefit in conjunction with existing health care coverage provided by an employer, Helton said.

Demand for virtual care is rising
Consumer demand for virtual health care has exploded during the coronavirus pandemic. Stephen Morgan, chief medical information officer at the Carilion Clinic in southwest Virginia, said virtual visits with clinic health providers increased from about 100 a month before the pandemic to about 800 a day, within two weeks after the pandemic hit.

Morgan said research has shown that telemedicine can provide quality on par with traditional in-person care, all while making services accessible to people who might otherwise not be able to see a doctor or would have to travel great distances in order to do so.

He also said it’s critical that health providers build in their own checks and balances to ensure that quality does not suffer.

“It is a concern that anyone who wants to do telemedicine, Amazon included, puts those checks and balances in place,” he said.