Amazon expands telehealth program nationwide

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Experts say telehealth services have made life easier for working parents. Jimena Roquero/Stocksy United
  • Amazon has announced that it has expanded its telehealth services nationwide.
  • The program, called Amazon Care, can connect customers via video chat with a medical professional.
  • If more care is needed, a nurse may be dispatched to certain locations in a person’s home.
  • Experts say Amazon Care could disrupt the healthcare industry, although it’s too early to tell how big that impact will be.

In 2017, Amazon ventured into the grocery business by acquiring Whole Foods.

The following year, Amazon bought the online pharmacy PillPack.

If you’re wondering what’s next for the e-commerce giant, the answer is telehealth.

Amazon recently announced that Amazon Care, its virtual health service, will now be available nationwide.

The company also said Amazon Care’s in-person companion services will roll out to 20 additional cities this year, including major metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, Miami, Chicago and New York.

Company officials say Amazon Care can quickly connect its customers to a medical professional via video chat from the comfort of their own home.

If the video visit cannot solve the problem or if you need further evaluation, the company will send a nurse to your home.

For now, however, this nurse visit is only available in eight cities that offer home care. These are Seattle, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Austin, Los Angeles, Washington, DC and Arlington.

To use the service, your employer must have subscribed to it.

Amazon says it provides the service to its Whole Foods employees.

The company launched a pilot telehealth service for its own employees and their families in Seattle in 2019.

The company says it also has new customers, including Silicon Labs and TrueBlue.

“We love anything that increases a patient’s access to health care providers,” said Caitlin Donovan, health policy expert and spokesperson for the National Patient Advocate Foundation.

“Telehealth is a great resource for patients and not just because of viruses…but also for people with low mobility, transportation issues and working parents,” Donovan told Healthline.

“There’s a whole host of people for whom telehealth is a great option…and I love anything that expands that,” she said.

Amazon is entering a telehealth space that is already growing rapidly and already has several players boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A research firm estimates that the growth rate has stabilized at 38 times the pre-pandemic level. It also predicted that up to $250 billion in healthcare spending could potentially be shifted to virtual care.

However, Donovan said Amazon’s home visits along with the telehealth session is something that could set his service apart from others. Home care might be something that other healthcare companies are considering offering.

“It feels like we’ve come full circle in the best possible way,” she said. “If you can combine those two things…what you might actually have is the ability to reach a lot of people who have been left behind.”

Could Amazon’s telehealth services force major changes in the healthcare industry?

Experts aren’t sure yet.

“I don’t think it’s going to do much in the short term. This will have a very gradual impact. But longer term, there is potential,” said Kirthi Kalyanam, executive director of the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University in California.

He has researched and written extensively on the “Amazon Effect”.

Kalyanam said Amazon should first get many more employers to sign up for the service for their workers.

“It’s not like a retail service where they can stick it on the shelf and offer it to their Prime members,” he told Healthline.

But Kalyanam said the company had deep pockets, was patient and could invest for the long term.

“Amazon’s playbook is that they tackle the easy part of the healthcare system…and use technology to solve the problem,” he said.

“You get instant access to a doctor through your phone or mobile device. And if necessary, they will send a nurse to your home. It’s the friction they solve and that’s a very important thing. So far, the health system has failed to solve this problem for us,” he explained.

“I think that might make some of the existing healthcare companies very nervous,” Kalyanam added.

Amazon’s announcement of its telehealth expansion may have made some investors nervous. Shares of Teladoc, a virtual doctor’s visit company, fell 6% on the same day.

Ryan H. Bowman