In our next Emptor (our weekly-ish newsletter: subscribe here!), we will report on Alexa’s new job as a bathroom attendant, thanks to Kohler’s line of high tech lavatory appliances. In other, more useful news for consumers uninterested in paying $7,000 for an AI-enabled toilet, Amazon may be working to attain a more dignified position for its virtual assistant: doctor’s office secretary.
In 2018, Amazon made a series of moves indicating it aims to become a major player in healthcare. Some of the most significant of these moves include its formation, with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan, of an independent healthcare company for the three companies’ employees, its purchase of a pharmaceutical startup, and its development of software that will read electronic medical records.
Here is a roundup of some recent reports on Amazon’s healthcare ambitions.
A CNBC tech and health reporter recently outlined a speculative “vision” of Alexa’s role managing consumers’ healthcare. Patients would use the artificial intelligence as a “front door” to treatment, allowing them to access doctors and medication without having to leave home.
“So imagine you have a sore throat. You let Alexa know, and it responds by asking if you want to book an appointment at the doctor’s office or get a virtual consult. You pick the virtual option, and the doctor through Alexa asks you about your symptoms. It decides to send a courier to your home with a tiny portable device to do some basic tests for things like strep throat. The strep test is positive, so the virtual doc sends over a prescription for an antibiotic…All this happens within a few hours, and you never need to leave your house to sit in a medical office or stand in line at the pharmacy.”
Amazon’s acquisition of PillPack last summer, a tech startup that sorts and delivers medication, could make something like this transaction possible. Even if insufficient for more involved healthcare, something like an “Amazon Prime Health” service could aid consumers in managing basic ailments, preventative care, or even chronic conditions.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon starts out in health by providing things like over-the-counter medicines, and then moves into making the experience easier for managing your health,” Tom Robinson, a San Francisco-based partner at Oliver Wyman, who consults with health and life sciences companies, told CNBC.
The Verge flagged PillPack and Amazon’s medical records software as two developments to follow in 2019.
CNBC’s speculation aside, the extent of Amazon’s vision for PillPack remains an open question. The Verge asks: Will we one day order antidepressants through Amazon Prime? How would an Amazon-run pharmacy service affect the business of brick-and-mortar pharmacies?
Amazon’s software for reading medical records, meanwhile, purports to analyze them, then offer suggestions on treatment and cost savings. One research center has said it plans to use the software for identifying eligible patients for studies of experimental drugs.
ZDNet speculates that the independent healthcare company formed by Amazon with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan could serve as a kind of sandbox for Amazon to develop its approach to healthcare before offering it to consumers generally. Together, the three companies employ more than one million workers, “a figure that puts [their healthcare company] in the same league as the top-tier insurers.”
Other tech giants, such as Apple and Google, have also been moving into healthcare. One analyst told ZDNet, however, that he believes Amazon has the edge.
“From a technology standpoint,” Jeff Becker, senior analyst at tech analyst Forrester, said, “I think that Amazon’s ambitions are bigger than the likes of Apple and even the likes of Google, which has been making some recent news with its healthcare ambitions, but it’s not as organized or as mature as what Amazon is putting together at this point.”
Image from Pexels.com.