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One Medical makes splashy Amazon debut with homepage ad for digital health services

CEO Andy Jassy appears fully behind Amazon's healthcare play when introducing One Medical, after series of piecemeal digital health efforts.
By admin
Feb 23, 2023, 2:00 PM

With 2.4 billion monthly visits, the homepage of Amazon.com is one of the biggest stages in the world, showcasing products, companies, media, and influencers that attract hundreds of millions of individual consumers on a regular basis.   

Customers visiting the main page in late February will notice something new at the very top of the page: a letter from Amazon CEO Andy Jassy touting the company’s acquisition of One Medical, a hybrid in-person and digital health services network that the retail giant scooped up last July for a cool $3.9 billion. 

The letter introduces the concept behind One Medical, confidently stating that the network’s telehealth options and physical locations, as well as their health information exchange connections with other health systems, is “how primary care should work” for patients. 

Related article: Amazon, Walgreens, and CVS target primary care in new acquisitions

“Customers tell us there is a need to radically improve the health care experience, and we think we can help,” says Jassy. “At Amazon, together with One Medical, we’re determined to help make it easy for you to get the care, the medication, and other products and services you need to get and stay healthy.” 

While the announcement might not seem that different from any other company marketing release after a big purchase, for Amazon, it signals a shift in the way they are approaching their healthcare activities. 

Coming just a short time after the intriguing launch of RxPass, a flat rate $5 per month plan that gives members access to all their eligible generic medications, it does indicate that Amazon is getting very serious about a more coordinated, sustainable play into the digital health services arena. 

That’s something of a departure from the company’s chequered history with health.  Previous efforts and acquisitions, such as the purchases of PillPack and Health Navigator, as well as the failed collaborative Haven venture, didn’t seem to make much of a dent in the large scale problems facing patients.   

Related article: Breaking barriers: How Amazon Pharmacy RxPass is improving health equity

And the August 2022 shutdown of Amazon Care, the company’s employee-focused telehealth service, made observers wonder if Amazon had all its ducks in a row, especially since the internal announcement carried a tone of failure, not of a planned transition in light of the concurrent One Medical purchase.  

Jassy’s missive could turn the tables on the narrative. By putting millions of eyes on its health services suite all at once, Amazon is, presumably, feeling prepared for a massive influx of new members.   

And if they get what they’re aiming for, that could be a big deal for consumers who are struggling with primary care provider shortages and concerns about access to routine and preventive services. 

While there are dozens of virtual health apps that are more or less identical to the Amazon Clinic portion of the offerings – treatments for a well-defined list of common, simple conditions provided by a remote clinician with medications sent through the mail – the One Medical framework is a bit different. 

It’s digital-first concierge medicine with the option to visit a real-world clinic for those who happen to live in a small number of urban areas with a nearby office. Services include chronic disease management and mental healthcare, as well as expanded hours for urgent care in a few offices in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. 

The model is promising, but the execution is where it could go sideways. If millions of consumers quickly grab onto the idea after seeing it on the homepage, Amazon will be facing enormous pressure to scale up rapidly. And they may find it just as challenging as any other healthcare provider to acquire and retain enough clinicians and support staff to run a massive new parallel health system that hasn’t been tested at a similar size and scope ever before.   

The pressure will be on for other healthcare providers, too, who might start receiving more patient referrals from One Medical than they can easily handle.   

Health system leaders that are already working with One Medical will need to carefully evaluate their capacity for care as the network balloons with new consumers. And those that are interested in working with Amazon in the future will need to think about how to develop the right technical connections, such as patient matching, and provider workflows to ensure that everyone gets the care they need, no matter how they enter the ecosystem. 

Jassy concludes his letter by stating that “we’re just at the beginning of what’s possible,” and that seems like a fair statement to make. The coming out party could either go really wrong – or really right – for the company’s take on digital health. Either way, the industry will be watching very closely to see what happens and how to capitalize on the ongoing shift to digital-first primary care for patients. 

Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry.  Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system.  She can be reached at jennifer@inklesscreative.com.

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