For years, health care experts have watched Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) steadily wade deeper and deeper into home-based care waters. It appears the Seattle-based technology powerhouse is finally diving in — and making a big splash.
On Wednesday, Amazon announced it is expanding Amazon Care — its on-demand health care service — across the U.S. Plans include a state-wide rollout of Amazon Care in Washington, with a nationwide expansion of the platform’s virtual care offering coming later this year.
“Amazon Care launched as a pilot in Seattle 18 months ago,” an Amazon spokesperson told Home Health Care News in an email. “[We’re now] excited to be expanding our service and offering an accessible, convenient solution to help even more employees and their families get the care they need in the moment.”
Broadly, Amazon Care gives users access to a mix of in-person and virtual medical care in the home. Services are coordinated using the Amazon Care app, with Amazon sending a medical professional into a patient’s home when needed.
Just some of those in-person services can include blood draws, vital-sign monitoring and prescription delivery, according to the company. An Amazon Care executive wasn’t made available to HHCN, but director Kristen Helton discussed the platform with CNBC.
“We have developed the ability to treat chronic conditions,” Helton said. “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.”
As of Wednesday, Amazon Care is now available to the company’s employees in Washington, plus all other in-state employers who want to purchase the service for their employees as part of a benefits package.
Moving forward, Amazon will make parts of the service available to its employees and other companies in all 50 states by this summer.
Amazon Care’s in-person services will likewise expand to Washington, D.C., Baltimore and other cities in the coming months, according to the company.
To pull this off in Washington, Amazon partners with Care Medical, a private medical practice consisting of licensed clinicians, the Amazon spokesperson told HHCN. These clinicians are contracted as Amazon Care’s clinical team.
“We will continue to partner with Care Medical to service our patients’ health care needs and may also partner with additional providers,” the spokesperson added.
Amazon’s health care history
Amazon Care originally launched 18 months ago as a pilot program that allowed its Seattle-based employees to have access to virtual urgent care visits. Last September, the company rolled out the program state-wide.
The pilot program predates the COVID-19 emergency, but the move to expand was partly motivated by the resulting increased demand for care.
“We are helping even more employees and their families get access to high-quality, transparent and convenient care whenever they need it,” an Amazon spokesperson previously told HHCN.
Amazon Care’s national push should come as no surprise to those who have been paying close attention. Earlier this month, Amazon quietly filed paperwork to operate Amazon Care in 21 more states.
Furthermore, Amazon Care isn’t the company’s first foray into the health care space.
Last year, the company formed a partnership with Crossover Health — an employer health provider — to launch employee health clinics.
In 2018, Amazon teamed up with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to form Haven. The joint venture was focused on improving employer health programs. In February, Haven disbanded.
The company has also stepped into the senior care space before, with talks of a possible partnership with AARP back in 2018. The nature of a partnership was centered around designing technology for aging populations.
More recently, Amazon introduced a new health care feature through its Alexa device aimed at helping informal caregivers monitor seniors inside the home.
Additionally, earlier in March, Amazon Care teamed up with a consortium of health care organizations — Signify Health, Ascension, Home Instead Senior Care and others — to form “Moving Health Home,” a new advocacy group with the goal of changing federal and state policies to expand at-home care.
Amazon has also specifically focused on the older adult market in the past. For example, Amazon workers previously took a bus tour that involved Green House founder Dr. Bill Thomas to get a crash-course in senior housing and aging services, according to a report from Senior Housing News.
It’s also worth noting that one of the company’s most recent hires is Ginna Baik, who joined Amazon after working for CDW Healthcare. Baik now serves as Amazon’s senior business development manager for senior living.
On a larger scale, on-demand services have become ubiquitous in all industries.
Retail giant Amazon has been one of the most visible companies in the space. With its resources and scale, the ability to provide accessible on-demand care could easily make Amazon a future major player in the home-based care space.
If this is the case, Amazon could become serious competition for home-based care providers.
On the other hand, this could potentially create opportunities for providers. It’s not difficult to imagine any number of home health, home care or in-home primary care organizations collaborating with Amazon to serve patients regionally or on a national level.
Additionally, Amazon Care’s expansion follows the major business boom that telehealth saw last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Only 11% of patients in the U.S. were using telehealth in 2019. By contrast, 46% of patients were using telehealth in lieu of traditional health care visits in 2020, according to a survey by McKinsey & Company.
Over the past year, the telehealth environment has become increasingly competitive, according to a report by Scott Schoenhaus, an analyst at Stephens.
Schoenhaus noted that Amazon Care’s expansion follows other recent trends including Cigna acquiring MDLive in February, UnitedHealthcare partnering with Amwell in January and Dr. on Demand merging with Grand Rounds this month.
Before the public health emergency, the annual revenues of U.S. telehealth players were an estimated $3 billion. In the coming years, this could skyrocket up to an estimated $250 billion, according to McKinsey & Company.