Amazon executives said Tuesday they are excited to move forward in healthcare, despite the sector’s potential challenges.
“Amazon comes at this with a lot of humility,” said Amazon Clinic’s chief medical officer and general manager Dr. Nworah Ayogu at ViVE, the digital health conference held in Nashville, Tennessee. “The company is no stranger to going into hard industries and making them better. Twenty years ago in retail, it was not common to have two-day shipping or easy returns.”
The company has hired healthcare veterans such as Ayogu, who worked as CityBlock Health’s founding medical director, and Vice President of Healthcare Aaron Martin, formerly chief digital officer at Providence.
“We get healthcare, its intricacies and difficulties,” Ayogu said.
Amazon has been persistent in its healthcare push even after a series of misses. The company’s joint healthcare-specific venture with J.P. Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway disbanded in January 2021. In August 2022, it shuttered its Amazon Care service, which contracted with employers and health plans to provide virtual care.
In November 2022, the company pivoted to launch Amazon Clinic, a consumer-facing “virtual health storefront” connecting users with third-party telehealth providers, through which patients can access a variety of treatments aimed at skin conditions, sexual health and other clinical needs.
Ayogu, who took over Amazon Clinic after a stint at Amazon Pharmacy, said early returns have been positive.
The platform, available in 33 states, works with three virtual care providers: HealthTap, SteadyMD and Alpha Medical. Similar to how Amazon has connected online shoppers with third-party retailers, Ayogu said he hopes the service will connect patients with more third-party doctors and organizations.
“We’ve gotten a lot of interest from a lot of telehealth companies … but at the same time, we’ve got a rigorous process that we have our partners go through before putting them on the platform,” Ayogu said. “We want to make sure they have high clinical quality and a customer experience that people have come to expect from Amazon.”
The company also finalized its acquisition of primary care provider One Medical in February after the Federal Trade Commission declined to block the deal.
Amazon Clinic, One Medical and Amazon Pharmacy are all part of the company’s overall healthcare strategy to make it easier for people to access care or medications, Ayogu said.
AWS addressing healthcare workforce
Amazon Web Services, Amazon’s cloud computing subsidiary, is also trying to make inroads in healthcare, said David Levy, AWS’ vice president of healthcare, U.S. government and nonprofit businesses.
At ViVE, the cloud provider announced the 23 startups participating in its accelerator centered on addressing healthcare workforce challenges. Over the course of five weeks, leaders at the startups will learn how to refine their cloud architecture, business model and regulatory pathways.
“We hear from a lot of organizations that want help in developing their workforce,” Levy said. “We want to help support organizations in acquiring skills around the cloud and building with them to solve their problems.”
This is especially true as health systems switch from physical servers to the cloud. Levy said AWS trains healthcare providers’ employees on how to increase organizational efficiencies through the cloud. For instance, AWS worked with Carbondale, Illinois-based Southern Illinois Healthcare to build an automated, text-based survey mechanism providing leadership with actionable data to assess potential burnout.
It’s part of AWS’ aim to work with healthcare organizations on a deeper level than just offering them a cloud platform, Levy said. The subsidiary formerly launched accelerators around health equity and care for people 65 and older.
“We put our customers first and we think about very carefully what it is they’re trying to accomplish,” Levy said. “We’re trying to help them accomplish that.”
On Wednesday at the conference, Amazon Pharmacy announced a new feature where it will automatically apply eligible brand-name coupons to patients’ medication orders.
Coupons will initially be made available for eight brand-name medications from four manufacturers, including GSK, Kaléo, Novo Nordisk and Dexcom. Discounts range from $500 for a weight loss drug Wegovy to $200 for a smart glucose sensor.
Users filling eligible, name brand prescriptions will have manufacturer discount coupons automatically applied to their orders. While the initial number of available coupons is modest, Amazon said it has plans to increase its coupon offerings by the Summer.
“This is a starting point, with a focus on conditions with large unmet needs, including emphysema and obesity,” said Dr. Vin Gupta, chief medical officer of Amazon Pharmacy via a statement. “We are motivated to continue to expand this program.”
The company said the coupons can expire anytime and without notice. Medicare and Medicaid recipients are not eligible.
In January, Amazon Pharmacy announced RxPass, a generic drug subscription service aimed at consumers with common conditions like high blood pressure, acid reflux or anxiety. The medication delivery service costs $5 per month for Prime members. The coupons cannot be used with RxPass, Amazon said.