Amazon is making its first attempt to provide health services, announcing on Wednesday that it will offer its Amazon Care telemedicine program to employers across the country.
Currently available to company employees in Washington, D.C. Care for Amazon is an application that connects users in practice with doctors, practicing nurses and nurses who can provide services and treatment by phone 24 hours a day. In the Seattle area, this is complemented by personal services such as the delivery of pharmacies and home call services by nurses who can take blood tests and provide similar services.
On Wednesday, announced the technology giant it will immediately expand the service to interested employers in Washington who want to purchase the service for their employees. Until the summer, Amazon Care will expand nationally for all Amazon workers and private employers across the country who want to join.
In Baltimore, Washington, DC, and the northern market of Virginia, where Amazon is building a second headquarters to house more than 25,000 workers, Amazon Care will include personal services that are currently limited to Seattle.
“Providing this information to other employers is a big step,” Amazon Care CEO Kristen Helton said in a telephone interview. “This is an opportunity for other prospective employers to offer a service that helps provide high-quality care, convenience and peace of mind.”
Amazon launched the service 18 months ago for its employees in Washington. Helton said consumers have given him excellent feedback, and business customers are interested in being able to buy the service for their own employees.
Helton said the product was designed to be a supplement or additional benefit to the existing coverage provided by the employer.
Consumer demand for telemedicine and virtual health increased during the pandemic. Stephen Morgan, a professor of medicine in Virginia Tech and chief medical officer at the Carrilion Clinic in southwest Virginia, said virtual visits increased from about 100 a month before the pandemic to about 800 a day over a two-week period.
He said research shows that telemedicine can provide quality on a par with traditional personal care, while providing services to people who would not otherwise be able to receive them or would have to travel long distances to do so.
But he said it was crucial for suppliers to build control and balance to ensure quality did not suffer.
“It’s worrying that anyone who wants to practice telemedicine, including Amazon, puts those checks and balances in place,” he said.
Helton said that when users log into the Amazon Care app, they are asked several questions that serve to triage the call and direct it to a nurse, practicing nurse, or doctor, as appropriate. She said it usually takes 60 seconds or less to contact a healthcare professional.
Healthcare providers are provided by Care Medical, a contractor who works with Amazon on an exclusive contract.
While Amazon is launching healthcare initiatives like Amazon Pharmacy and Amazon Hello, a bracelet that measures vital statistics, Amazon Care will be the technology giant’s first attempt to provide health services outside of its own workforce, Helton said.
Many employers and insurers have begun to take a more direct role in providing care for the people they cover, rather than waiting for them to pay claims when they enter. They expanded access to telemedicine before the pandemic struck, and large employers also added or expanded clinics at or near their workplaces.
Providing quick access to care can help patients stay healthy and work. It can also prevent worsening of the disease and more expensive treatment. Employers have been struggling for years to gain more control over health care spending, which is steadily rising faster than wages and inflation.
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