A worker assembles a box for delivery at the Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore, Maryland, April 30, 2019
Clodagh Kilcoyne | Reuters
Amazon is rolling out its telehealth service known as Amazon Care for its employees in all 50 states starting this summer with plans to expand it to other employers later this year.
“Amazon Benefits has been the enterprise customer that we’ve been serving to date. Now, looking at other enterprises, understanding their needs, we think a lot of the needs are similar,” Kristen Helton, director of Amazon Care, said.
Amazon Care launched as a pilot program two years ago to provide convenient urgent care visits virtually for the company’s employees in Washington state, with free telehealth consults and in-home visits for a fee from nurses for testing and vaccinations. The program has since expanded into more of a primary care service.
“We have developed the ability to treat chronic conditions … you can see the same provider, have a care team, so that that group of clinicians really gets to know you and I would say, we’re also learning on the clinical side, we really need to give clinicians, the tools to provide excellent care,” Helton said.
Amazon will roll out the virtual care part of the program for its employees and other companies nationwide this year, but the added in-person services will initially be offered only in Washington state and near its new second headquarters in the Washington, D.C., metro area.
The move comes two months after Amazon said it was winding down Haven, its joint venture with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan. Haven had been touted three years ago as an incubator to improve employer health programs.
In the interim, Amazon has developed and launched its own online pharmacy, after acquiring PillPack in 2018. Last year, the company partnered with employer health provider Crossover Health to launch in-person employee health clinics, which now serve Amazon workers across 17 sites in Texas, Arizona, Kentucky, California and Michigan.
The pharmacy, the employee clinics and Amazon Care are run as independent health-care initiatives within Amazon. Asked whether she envisions the company putting some of the services together for other employers, Helton said she “won’t speculate about how this will evolve.”
Employer telehealth market
Amazon is taking aim at the employer market, following tremendous growth in telehealth during the Covid pandemic that has helped fuel a series of deals in the sector over the last six months.
In October, Teladoc reached an $18 billion agreement to acquire diabetes management firm Livongo. Last month, Cigna‘s Evernorth division announced it will acquire virtual care platform MDLive for an undisclosed amount. This week, privately held telemedicine provider Dr. on Demand announced it is merging with Grand Rounds, which provides health-care navigation services.
“What we’re hearing from employers is that … they’re looking for platforms that can deliver a suite of services,” explained analyst Charles Rhyee, managing director at Cowen & Co., adding that most telemedicine has been focused on urgent care, “not really connected to your overall health care. Virtual primary care is that next step.”
All three deals were focused on providing more integrated digital health services for employers as large companies increasingly look to make medical and mental health services more accessible both virtually and in person.
“I think what we’ve learned is that a hybrid model is probably what we’re going to end up with; where sometimes we go to the doctor’s office, when we need a procedure done, when we need imaging done, when we’re not sure what’s going on with you,” said Dr. Bob Kocher, a partner at venture firm Venrock, who serves as a board observer at Dr. on Demand and Grand Rounds. “A lot of visits, in between, will be done virtually.”
Health insurers are also getting in on telehealth expansion. CVS Health is conducting a virtual primary care pilot with a large employer using its Minute Clinic service, while UnitedHealth Group‘s UnitedHealthcare unit launched its own employer virtual primary care service in January.
Amazon is the new kid on the block in the employer market, but virtual primary care is also a developing business for its more established competitors which may even the playing field a bit.
“Health care is an incredibly large space, and there’s lots of opportunity. We see there’s room for more than one winner in the space,” said Helton.
Given Amazon’s track record for winning big in retail, web services and entertainment, investors and its competitors in health care will be watching its moves closely.