Back in September, Amazon.com (AMZN 1.21%) announced a new benefit for its workers. The pilot program -- called Amazon Care -- is a healthcare service being offered to the company's employees and their families in and around its Seattle headquarters. The program provides a number of innovative offerings, including both in-person and virtual options, while offering patients follow-up care and prescription drug delivery.
While the nascent program might not seem particularly noteworthy, anyone who's followed the company for any length of time knows that Amazon has a history of developing products and services for in-house use at the company, only to offer them to customers and businesses later on.
More importantly, this is just one in a number of recent moves that form a clear pattern that should put the industry on notice that Amazon's coming -- and it could mark the beginning of a dramatic shift in how healthcare is done.
A different way of doing things
Amazon says the initiative offers "the best of both virtual and in-person care." One virtual tool is the care chat option: "Our in-app text chat connects you with a nurse in minutes for advice and answers on any health topic." Another option -- video care -- will "launch an in-app video visit with a doctor or nurse practitioner for advice, answers, diagnosis, treatment, or referrals," according the website.
In-person options include a visit from a mobile care nurse, who can be dispatched to the patient's home or office to conduct in-person exams, testing, or treatment. Additionally, a "care courier" can deliver prescription medications.
The Amazon Care Website is "your first stop for healthcare," with a listing of issues it can address, including colds, allergies, infections, and minor injuries, as well as preventative health consultations, vaccines, and lab work. Patients can also get assistance with sexual health services like contraception and sexually transmitted infection testing.
Other recent developments
Earlier this month, Amazon announced the launch of Transcribe Medical, a medical transcription service that uses machine learning similar to what's found on smartphones and smart speakers. The new service can be turned on during a medical visit and capture the spoken interactions between the doctor and patient and transcribe them into a digital format that becomes part of the patient's digital medical records. Medical technology specialist Cerner (CERN) recently expanded its relationship with AWS by naming the unit its preferred cloud and machine learning provider, and has also became one of Transcribe Medical's first customers.
This followed close on the heels of the revelation in October that Amazon acquired Health Navigator, a start-up focused on providing technology and services solutions in the digital health arena. The features it provided were quickly folded into Amazon Care, forming the cornerstone of its live chat and video features.
Investors may recall that Amazon also raised eyebrows when it acquired online pharmacist PillPack in 2018 for about $753 million. The online pharmacist is licensed in all 50 states, giving Amazon a strong foothold in prescription fulfillment. The company announced last month that it was rebranding the company to PillPack by Amazon Pharmacy, and PillPack's CEO, TJ Parker, was also promoted to the level of vice president within Amazon. The pharmacy unit is reportedly thriving, with revenue expected to double to $635 million in 2019, then double again to $1.2 billion in 2020.
Born from an idea
These steps emerged from an initiative that started a couple of years ago, when Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase said they would partner, forming an independent company whose mission was to search for ways to reduce their spiraling healthcare costs.
At the time, executives from the companies said they were searching for a solution "free from profit-making incentives and constraints" that would provide employees with lower-cost healthcare options. While that may be true, Amazon is in the business of making money, and CEO Jeff Bezos has famously said, "Your margin is my opportunity."
All parts of a larger puzzle
Each of these announcements, taken independently, doesn't amount to much. Taken together, however, they paint a compelling picture of how Amazon is slowly but systematically building out its healthcare business. It won't be long before the company will be a force in the industry.