Amazon Takes First Step into Virtual Primary Care
In what could be the first step toward a larger-scale play down the road, Amazon recently launched a pilot virtual primary care program called Amazon Care to give some of its Seattle-area employees and their families quicker access to care without the need for an appointment. Assuming the pilot goes well, Amazon will scale the program to more of its employees as it continues its quest to drive down health care costs and disrupt the health care market.
Amazon Care includes a mobile app that provides access to virtual and in-person health care services from Oasis Medical, a separate legal subsidiary from Amazon, the parent company, CNBC reports. The program offers an app that links to telehealth services and gives users the ability to request a visit from a mobile care nurse at home, work or other location.
This is the second significant move by Amazon to reshape how care is delivered to its employees. Last year, the company announced plans to open a primary care clinic in its Seattle headquarters and to hire a small number of physicians to staff the facility. Amazon also has been working with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway on a joint venture called Haven to drive down health care costs.
This latest move is a test case of sorts. The Amazon Care platform is a small pilot and excludes employees who have Kaiser Permanente insurance through the company. And it’s similar to ventures that companies like Apple and Walmart have taken in recent years.
Still unanswered is whether Amazon intends to expand this effort beyond its employee base and open primary care clinics with a Prime membership offering discounted rates for care, as some analysts have been theorizing. Walmart’s Sam’s Club recently moved in that direction, teaming up with several health care companies to offer discounts on routine care that customers might delay or skip because of the cost. Beginning in October, Sam’s Club members in Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina will be able to buy bundles of services that include discounted telehealth consultations, free prescriptions for certain generic medications and discounted dental care. Walmart also recently opened its first Walmart Health Center in Dallas, Ga. The facility offers primary care, lab, imaging, dental and counseling services at sharply discounted rates from what patients would pay in a physician’s office and other retail health clinics. The company plans to open similar clinics elsewhere.