Amazon’s big gamble

Quick Read: Amazon will dramatically expand its healthcare reach with its planned $3.9 billion acquisition of One Medical, a primary care provider with 188 offices in 25 markets nationwide but are they making a strategic move or a mistake? Telehealth has a future, but one could argue that physicians need to see patients firsthand to diagnose and evaluate patients. We also have to ponder the number of people who need more tests and coordination of medical records between HCPs.

One Medical is a subscription-based primary care provider that leans into technology to build “a seamless combination of in-person, digital, and virtual care services convenient to where people work, shop, and live.” At its core is an app and website that members can use to book appointments, track health records and renew prescriptions. Patients who sign up on their own are charged an annual fee of $199 for a suite of services, including on-demand video health consultations available at all hours and other benefits. I can easily schedule a telehealth appointment with my doctor without paying $199 a year.

So let’s diagnose Amazon’s purchase.

1ne: Younger demographics are using telehealth for Rx renewals or requesting an Rx for specific conditions. However, physicians would argue that they also need to see patients in person for many health issues. Can someone get an accurate diagnosis via a computer screen?

2wo: One of the continued challenges for healthcare is coordinating tests such as MRIs and blood work. Many patients are frustrated with securing timely appointments and ensuring that the results from those consultations are shared among the patient’s healthcare providers’ network. Amazon’s purchase does not address these issues.

3hree: What does this mean for patient data? Many critics are wary of Amazon’s control over numerous consumer-facing businesses. The company that started as an online bookseller nearly three decades ago has grown its business to encompass a delivery network roughly the size of UPS, a dominant cloud provider that allows companies to store data remotely, and a vast ecosystem of Alexa-powered devices. And it has grown its Prime membership program to more than 200 million globally.

Amazon’s takeover of One Medical is the latest shot in a terrifying new stage in the business model of the world’s largest corporations

 Barry Lynn, the executive director of the Open Markets Institute.

4our: Can HCPs trust patients? Recently I talked to an epidemiologist about telehealth, and she had a grave concern. When asked about patients’ weight and activity, she found that they tend to underestimate and overestimate their physical activity. “If I tell my diabetic patients to lose weight and they aren’t taking action, it’s a problem in patient behavior that must be addressed,” she said. I prefer a face-to-face appointment where I can effectively diagnose a patient based on what I see”.

5ive: Will Amazon use my data to market to me? If a patient is prescribed birth control pills, will Amazon use that data to serve ads based on the demographics of patients who use birth control pills?

I’m an Amazon Prime customer, and I use Amazon for many of my needs, but when it comes to healthcare, I prefer a local pharmacy and seeing a doctor in person. I don’t want Amazon to mail me my medications when I can use a local pharmacy drive-through and pick up the prescription within an hour or two of a doctor writing an Rx.

The real benefit of One Medical might be the savings to employers seeing their employee health costs increase yearly.

Telehealth has a place in healthcare’s future, but I wouldn’t bet that future is so big until more HCPs, insurance companies, and patients have bought in.