With a local pilot program, Amazon looks to be working out many of the regulatory and logistical kinks that could lay the groundwork for broader telemedicine adoption nationwide.
Amazon is pushing the boundaries of business once again. This time, the company has its sights set on telemedicine and the healthcare industry.
Last month, Amazon said it will launch of Amazon Care, a virtual primary care clinic that will use telehealth services to provide healthcare to some of the company’s nearly 650,000 employees. Patients will use the Amazon Care mobile app to exchange text messages with healthcare professionals, video chat with a doctor or nurse practitioner for medical advice and get prescriptions delivered to their home or office. They can even request in-person exams in their own homes. Amazon Care promises to help with everything from preventative health consults to colds, allergies, infections, minor injuries, sexual health services and general health questions.
The move comes after other healthcare plays from the online retail giant, including the acquisition of PillPack and launching Haven, its joint venture with JP Morgan and Berkshire-Hathaway. The Amazon Care offering is initially limited to the 50,000 Amazon employees living and working in the Seattle area. But if the push is successful, many industry observers believe the retail and technology giant will eventually extend this offering to its millions of retail customers.
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With this local pilot program, Amazon looks to be working out many of the regulatory and logistical kinks that could lay the groundwork for broader telemedicine adoption nationwide.
Overcoming licensing challenges
Amazon isn’t betting on telehealth blindly. Demand for telehealth is growing fast, with both healthcare providers and patients showing strong interest in these services. The number of telemedicine patient visits rose more than 250 percent between 2015 and 2017, and research shows that the number of doctors who claim to have telemedicine as a skill has doubled since 2015. As these services continue to rise in popularity, experts predict the telemedicine sector will grow into a $130.5 billion market by 2025.
However, many healthcare providers delivering telehealth services face challenges when providing care across state lines. Each state has its own rules and regulations around telehealth, and the lack of national licensure standards leaves physicians with a patchwork state-by-state licensing process. This convoluted regulatory landscape can introduce the potential for licensing violations when a patient in one state receives care from a healthcare provider licensed in another state.
Amazon seems to have accounted for this by partnering with Oasis Medical Group, P.C., a medical practice licensed in Washington state, to provide telemedicine services and consults through the Amazon Care app and in-person services to its Seattle-based employees. This localized structure benefits Amazon from a licensing perspective. Should Amazon decide to expand this program, or if other large corporations follow suit with similar programs of their own, these types of local partnerships would also present a significant opportunity for medical practices across the country looking to expand their telehealth services in their local areas.
Addressing critical data privacy and security concerns
Amazon’s push into telemedicine also seems to be addressing technology-driven challenges that have held back telehealth. As with any network-connected storage or exchange of health information, HIPAA and cybersecurity concerns will inevitably arise. Healthcare records and information are notoriously attractive to cybercriminals, and the amount of attention this data receives from hackers is high.
Amazon is no stranger to the need to protect consumer data. That said, while Amazon may have the infrastructure needed to protect consumer information, Amazon Care will involve the transmission and storage of highly sensitive protected health information that must be safeguarded in compliance with HIPAA. This is no small feat, and Amazon will need to ensure that such data is properly protected and stored to put participating employees at ease.
The future of telemedicine
Amazon’s foray into telemedicine has the potential to accelerate the proliferation of telehealth services across the U.S. by defining best practices and creating partnership opportunities. If the program grows to new markets, as many believe it will, it will bring the opportunity for countless local medical practices to extend the reach of their telehealth services to more individuals.
Amazon seems to be laying the legal and regulatory groundwork to make this push successful by considering potential licensing and data privacy challenges. In scaling up telemedicine offerings, Amazon and other companies seeking to make this push must arm themselves with a solid understanding of applicable regulations and a strong cybersecurity defense system. If Amazon can crack this code, it could accelerate the reach of telemedicine across the country.