Amazon Expands Into Telehealth and Home Care
When I graduated nursing school, I sold some of my nursing books to a new site I had heard of that was basically a giant online bookstore. I was amazed when all I had to do was type in the book’s ISBN number and the site paid me for sending in my books.
Well, friends, that little website was Amazon and as we all know, that site has forever changed the world. And now, Amazon is trying to change the face of healthcare too, with the launch of Amazon Care, a new format of healthcare that combines virtual visits for eligible members and home care in some select locations. Will it take off just as fast as Amazon progressed past the book-seller stage? Let’s take a closer look.
What is Amazon Care?
Amazon Care is hybrid healthcare–it combines both virtual visits and home healthcare services and it was largely born out of the changes in healthcare that the pandemic brought. Many more people turned to telehealth services than ever before—the CDC reports a huge increase in telehealth during the pandemic, thanks to a combination of factors, including limited in-person services, caution from those avoiding in-person services, and an expansion of telehealth services and offerings from health facilities. Even Medicare, which previously didn’t allow home telehealth visits, saw a boom in virtual visits. In other words, more people were more willing to use telehealth and more medical offices were willing to offer it.
Amazon Care officially launched in September 2019 and has virtual care available nationwide, with in-person services in select areas, including Seattle, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Austin, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Arlington. The service will also be branching out to 20 more cities this year, including San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, and New York City.
Basically, the virtual arm of Amazon Care works just like any other telehealth service, allowing patients to speak with a doctor or practitioner virtually from their home through a mobile app for non-emergency health issues. The in-person portion, however, is actually throwing healthcare back to its original model: home care. Patients in the areas with in-person care will have a nurse sent to their home for more complicated healthcare issues allowing the nurse to do everything from lab draws to physical assessments while in the patient’s home.
What Can Amazon Care Be Used For?
According to the Amazon Care page, patients can use the virtual visits for non-emergency medical issues such as:
- Advice and referrals for more specialized care
- Allergies, cold, flu, or COVID-19 symptoms
- Chronic condition care management
- Minor injuries
- Pre-pregnancy planning
- Preventive care
- Questions about going to urgent care
- Sexual health
- Stress management
- Trouble sleeping
Amazon Care uses third-party Care Medical teams—made up of clinicians with family medicine backgrounds—to offer primary and preventive care to both children and adults and according to Amazon, they can even help manage long-term and chronic conditions.
Here are some FAQs about the service:
- You need a mobile phone with iOS 13 and above or Android 6 and above to download the Amazon Care app onto. You can’t use a tablet or computer.
- There are 3 services offered: a Care Chat, to talk with a nurse and/or help decide your next step; a Video Chat, which is an actual virtual visit, or Mobile Care, when a nurse is dispatched to your home for in-person care.
- Once you’re under the care of a Care Team, you can send messages to your clinician anytime and receive an answer within 24 hours. (Gotta admit: this is a pretty cool feature and I’m not totally sure if it’s a robot or not, but still comforting.)
- You can use insurance for Amazon Care and some employers also are partnering with the services.
- Any prescribed medications can be sent to your local pharmacy, or filled through Amazon Pharmacy, which offers 2-day delivery for members or $5.99 shipping for non-members.
How Will Amazon Care Change Healthcare?
Just like how Amazon as a virtual storefront changed the way we shop—and how fast we expect our packages to arrive—some think the “healthcare on-demand” model will change how consumers expect to connect to clinicians instantly. Their tagline on Twitter, for instance, is: “See a doctor or nurse in no time” and I think that about sums it up. Amazon is tapping into a nation that is fed up with long wait times for even simple healthcare services.
“I fully expect that customers are likely going to appreciate the immediacy of connecting to a medical professional, as this is something people are experiencing in more and more aspects of their life,” Tom Andriola, Vice-Chancellor of IT and Data at University of California Irvine and UCI Health, told Becker’s Hospital Review. Andriola also pointed out that Amazon isn’t changing healthcare as much as it is bringing back some “old” ways of doing things with home-based care.
“To truly serve the patient/health consumers, Amazon will need (and are developing) strong connections back to the traditional healthcare ecosystem for more complex patient situations and diseases,” he added. “It will be interesting to see how they choose to set up that aspect of their customer value chain and which pieces they choose to control directly.”
Mark Hallman, Chief Innovation and Transformation Officer at JPS Health Network in Fort Worth, Texas, also told the outlet that Amazon has the potential to be a true disruptor in the healthcare industry and hospitals will need to adapt and offer similar services in order to keep up.
What Does This Mean for Nurses?
As you may have already picked up on, Amazon Care relies heavily on nurses: nurses are the first point of contact for patients utilizing the service, providing triage virtually, educating patients, and referring them on when necessary. The service will also hire many NPs as primary care providers and of course, use nurses for the Mobile Care visits as well. It’s an interesting service model that will need a base of highly educated, professional nurses in order to serve patients as well, so I’d like to see if Amazon Care will compensate said nurses accordingly.
From a nurse’s perspective to use Amazon Care, I have to say it sounds promising. Honestly, as a nurse, mom (and therefore my family’s health gatekeeper), and someone who recently had to navigate the medical system as a patient for the first time other than giving birth, I can only dream of a solution that will make healthcare more convenient, seamless, and integrated. The patchwork of providers, the lack of communication, the fear and isolation of not being able to just get a simple question answered without feeling like you’re bothering someone—these are all real issues that have real impact on health.
And the ability to have a nurse come to your house for care? As someone who has been stuck at home with puking kids and no way to get to an in-person doctor, I do think that’s a pretty cool service. Plus, think of the possibilities for patients with disabilities, mobility challenges, and chronic conditions that could make a visit to a busy clinic or office risky or downright impossible.
There are others who think Amazon Care will not be any different than other telehealth services, and that Amazon simply won’t be where most people think to turn to for trusted medical advice. Amazon has had some failed healthcare ventures in the past, but it also has a tremendous amount of potential, from integration with Alexa to the resources to create an electronic medical record to endless wrap-around services to offer follow-up care, products, testing supplies and home delivery for healthcare goods.
So far, there hasn’t been a lot of commentary from leading nurses and nursing organizations on Amazon Care, but time will tell if this service is helpful—or yet another way for billionaires to exploit patients and nurses for profits.
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