Jumping headfirst into the virtual and in-home health market, Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) is rolling out its internal Amazon Care program as a workplace benefit to employers across the country, along with all its U.S. employees beyond its Washington base. An Amazon spokesperson told Investopedia this week that it’s "in discussions with a number of companies" about the service.

Key Takeaways

  • Amazon is expanding Amazon Care, its in-house, virtual healthcare service to all its U.S. employees and other employers nationwide.
  • Unlike other established players in the virtual-first care space, Amazon is looking to partner directly with employers, not health plans.
  • The move closely follows the creation of a new in-home care policy coalition in early March, of which Amazon Care is a founding member.

Behind Amazon's Move

Announced last week in a company news blog, these expansions—slated to begin this summer—could potentially grow the reach of Amazon’s app-based messaging, video, and in-person care options to millions of people. They’re also expected to ratchet up competition among existing telehealth providers and retail clinics, analysts say.

The move confirms recent rumors about the company’s big intentions in the healthcare arena and follows a successful pilot for Amazon employees in and around the company’s Seattle headquarters, who have been using Amazon Care since September 2019. In addition, it coincides with the launch of a new, Amazon-backed initiative intended to advance in-home health trends.

‘Every Company’s a Healthcare Company’

Telehealth’s ability to connect patients with doctors isn’t new, but the COVID-19 pandemic has sped its rise. Use of virtual care soared as people stayed home, remote work flourished, and physicians reduced nonessential office visits.

This trend in part led Forrester Research to predict that "every company will become a healthcare company in 2021" and that virtual care visits will continue to surge.

Moreover, Amazon Care’s plans put a dominant e-commerce firm directly in the healthcare services business for the first time, says Paddy Padmanabhan, founder and CEO of Damo Consulting, a digital health strategy firm.

"Think of this as Amazon Prime same-day-delivery on steroids," he wrote in a recent analysis. "Amazon has rightly latched onto a critical gap in telehealth experiences today: access to a medical professional in 60 seconds or less."

The Amazon Care app, available for iOS and Android, provides live chat with a nurse or doctor via in-app messaging or video. The program—which pledges to connect employees with a clinician in seconds, day or night—also includes an in-person component for at-home patient visits for things like routine blood draws or tests. And it also coordinates preventive care and prescription requests. The service is provided for Amazon by Care Medical, an independent medical practice.

"Employers seeking to keep today’s busy workforce healthy may find that Amazon Care offers them an attractive combination of speed, convenience, and peace of mind," Padmanabhan says.

Amazon Care is a benefit that can be added to an employer’s existing suite of offerings. In-person visit options under its plan will also expand to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, "and other cities in coming months," the company said.

How Do Amazon’s Plans Differ?

Arielle Trzcinski, principal analyst at Forrester Research, points out that Amazon is taking a different path to market. Unlike other established players in the virtual-first care space, Amazon is looking to partner directly with employers, not health plans. That strategy should reduce administrative costs, leading to an overall lower cost of care that’s passed on to employers and employees alike, she says in a recent report.

It also offers a "turnkey option for employers," she notes. "As employers look to safely reopen offices and offer onsite/near-site clinics to monitor and support employees, the needs will be diverse. This will be a potential sweet spot for Amazon Care."

But, she adds: "Time will tell if Amazon Care will be ready for prime time and if the business model will be profitable."

A New Advocacy Alliance for In-Home Care Policy

Amazon’s latest announcement comes on the heels of February's dissolution of Haven, a joint venture of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase that aimed to improve employer-sponsored healthcare delivery, while reducing costs. It also closely follows the formation of a new coalition in early March, of which Amazon Care is a founding member.

Called Moving Health Home, the group plans to lobby for policy changes that would broaden the scope of at-home clinical care services—plus allow for more flexible reimbursement for providers.

Among other founding members of the coalition are Ascension, Dispatch Health, Elara Caring, Home Instead, Intermountain Healthcare, Landmark Health, and Signify Health. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic showcased the untapped potential of home-based clinical care, and the opportunity for a more robust set of services ranging from primary care to hospital-level treatment," the group said in a press release announcing its formation. "The advent of telehealth, remote monitoring, digital therapeutics, provider home visiting, medical records sharing, and other technology has shown that care in the home can be at least equivalent to, if not better than, care offered in facilities."