Amazon.com Inc. is making its first foray into providing health-care services, announcing Wednesday it’ll expand its internal telemedicine program to all U.S. employers who want it.
The technology company’s app, Amazon Care, is currently available to its employees in Washington state and connects users with on-demand access to doctors, nurse practitioners and nurses who can provide services and treatment. In the Seattle area, it’s supplemented with in-person services such as pharmacy delivery and house-call services from nurses who can take blood work and provide similar services.
On March 17, the tech giant announced it’ll immediately expand the service to interested employers in Washington who want to purchase the service for their employees, with the intention of expanding the service nationally to all Amazon employees and to private employers across the country by the summer.
“Making this available to other employers is a big step,” says Kristen Helton, director of Amazon Care. “It’s an opportunity for other forward-thinking employers to offer a service that helps bring high-quality care, convenience and peace of mind.” However, the product is designed to be a supplement or an additional benefit to existing coverage provided by an employer, she adds.
Amazon launched the service 18 months ago for its Washington state employees. Helton says users have given it superior reviews, and business customers were inquiring about being able to buy into the service for their own workers. In the Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and the northern Virginia market, where Amazon is building a second headquarters that will house more than 25,000 workers, Amazon Care will include the in-person services that are currently limited to Seattle.
Consumer demand for telemedicine and virtual health care has exploded during the coronavirus pandemic. Stephen Morgan, a medical professor at Virginia Tech and chief medical information officer at the Carilion Clinic in southwest Virginia, says virtual visits increased there from about 100 a month before the pandemic to about 800 a day within a two-week span.
He says research has shown telemedicine can provide quality care on par with traditional in-person care, all while making services available to people who otherwise might not be able to get them or would have to travel great distances to do so. But, he says it’s critical providers build in checks and balances to ensure quality does not suffer. “It’s a concern that anyone who wants to do telemedicine, Amazon included, puts those checks and balances in place.”
Helton says when users log in to the Amazon Care app, they are asked a couple of questions that serve to triage the call and route it to a nurse, nurse practitioner or physician as appropriate. And she says it usually takes 60 seconds or less to connect to a health professional. The health-care providers are supplied by Care Medical, a contractor working with Amazon on an exclusive contract.
While Amazon has launched initiatives in the health field such as Amazon Pharmacy and Amazon Halo, a wristband that measures vital statistics, Amazon Care will be the tech giant’s first time providing health-care services beyond its own workforce, says Helton.