If a recent post from CNBC is accurate, Amazon is quietly making a large investment in healthcare. This expansive effort could leave Amazon with lucrative, long-term contracts with healthcare companies.
According to the report, a clandestine team within Amazon dubbed “1492” (CNBC assumes this refers to the year Columbus landed in the United States) is working on document storage and virtual doctor visits. From a certain perspective, Amazon could be positioning AWS as a storage solution for healthcare documents, which would be available to both doctors and patients as needed.
AWS has features that may prove attractive for healthcare providers and insurance companies. It could allow them to quickly surface more recent records while leaving legacy info in ‘cold storage.’ With enough partnerships with providers, AWS may even end up creating a shared platform that would make transferring documents between doctors and specialists a snap.
Amazon’s team is also reportedly working on new, health-related skills for Alexa. Sources wouldn’t rule out the creation of dedicated health hardware, and the company’s new Echo Look and Show hardware appear to be good fits for virtual doctor visits. The company is also poking around the pharmaceutical market, suggesting you may be able to both see a doctor and have medication sent to you via an Echo device.
Healthcare in the United States is a $3 trillion industry, and it might be the right time to disrupt it. As the government continues to fumble with how it plans to handle providing care to citizens moving forward, end-users are left wondering and worried. Tech companies have tried – often in vain – to stake a claim to how healthcare is monitored and delivered, typically through quantifying data through sensors, though no product or service has sparked widespread change.
When it comes to jobs, the healthcare industry is booming. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says there will be nearly 22 million jobs in healthcare by 2024. Four of BLS’s top ten occupations with the most job growth are also in the healthcare field. The Dice Salary Survey lists HL7, a standard for transferring sensitive medical data and records, as one of the best-paying skills, with 0.7 percent growth versus last year.
It’s easy to assume Amazon is trying to swallow healthcare whole, just as it’s done with other businesses and industries. But this rumored initiative could also be a way to position Amazon and its various tools and services as a conduit for healthcare providers and insurance companies. It’s a vision that touches all parts of the company’s ecosystem: AWS holds healthcare records; skills for Alexa might allow you to search for a doctor or clinic near you that your insurance covers; camera-equipped Echo devices could let you have virtual doctor visits when you’ve got a flu. From there, an Amazon pharmaceutical delivery service might bring you medication, possibly via Prime Now.
None of that necessarily upends any healthcare field. A driver might bring you something to ease your stomach, but it’s hard to imagine Amazon Prime Now drivers – who are independent contractors, much like Uber or Lyft – delivering schedule 2 drugs. The Echos Show and Look will also need to prove they adhere to privacy standards for virtual doctor visits. Amazon probably has a lot of work to do with rules and laws; as any healthcare professional will tell you, HIPAA regulations are tricky.
In making the attempt, though, Amazon could accelerate the healthcare industry’s evolution, and that’s where the intrigue lies. Healthcare jobs are already in demand, and a big player making an equivalently big investment could deliver a lasting impact.