Amazon has made a big hire for its “secret” health care division (known internally as 1492), according to CNBC. Amazon has hired the FDA’s former chief health informatics officer Taha Kass-Hout. The e-commerce giant reportedly brought Kass-Hout on board to work under former Google X director Babak Parviz in a business development role. What that role is remains a mystery – it is a secret division, after all – but based on Kass-Hout’s previous jobs, CNBC’s reporter believes the effort may involve helping people more easily access their health records.
This new service is described as “empowering consumers via sustainable health data ecosystems.” That suggests Amazon might be looking to help consumers get easier access to health records. Both Apple and Google parent company Alphabet have launched initiatives to help consumers access their medical information, which is currently scattered across various electronic systems. It’s a big problem — and a big opportunity for technology companies. More than 250,000 people die every year from medical errors, often resulting from a lack of available patient data, according to John Hopkins Medicine. Amazon hasn’t revealed its specific goals in this space, but CNBC reported that it’s looking at opportunities to push and pull data from legacy electronic medical systems. Medical experts say that it’s also possible that Kass-Hout will help guide Amazon through the regulatory process, especially if the initiative brings new health hardware or software to market.
“It’s not clear either way, but it does at least give them the option,” said Stephen Buck, a co-founder of GoodRx, which gives consumers a platform for cheaper medicines. Buck did not have any inside knowledge of the hire. “It’s smart of Amazon to bring in people well versed in health care data and how connectivity is vital to improving results,” he added. Amazon has various teams working internally on a wide variety different health projects, some of which may never reach production. For example, Forbes reports that it has teams focused on bringing its Alexa voice assistant to health care, looking at the drug supply chain, and selling medical supplies to hospitals.
Moves by new entrants may signal the continuing desire of large companies specializing in industreis outside of health care to transform the U.S. health industry. Many consumers view the current health care system as inefficient and expensive. Tech company Apple is looking to offer consumers health record access that would be as easy as accessing songs and selfies.