Amazon is expanding its telehealth service Amazon Clinic nationwide to all 50 states. Columbia University Healthcare Policy Professor Meghan Fitzgerald highlights Amazon’s journey into the telemedicine industry: “Amazon is starting to consolidate these health care assets around what it does really well, and that really is more of… an online service and accessing their prime membership.”
Fitzgerald, who is also the founder and CEO of Grey Ghost Capital, also highlights some of the initial drawbacks to Amazon Clinic, stipulating “they don’t accept insurance… yet.”
– In other health care news, telehealth service Amazon Clinic now available in all 50 states. It launched last November. It’s a virtual platform for users to connect with health care providers to treat common conditions. Meg, I want to get your thoughts on this, how it is competitively. We have seen sort of pure play, other pure play telehealth services kind of struggle, or it’s at the very least, a choppy business. Do you think that Amazon’s competitive here?
MEGHAN FITZGERALD: Yeah. I think some great reporting by Anjalee showed this is Amazon getting closer to their core. Using Amazon as a service or something that looks more akin to AWS. So they’ve gone from Haven, to PillPack, to One Medical. And now they’re kind of saying, hey, we’re going to access a provider for you on the Amazon platform. And I actually went and used it. I tried the text messaging for an asthma drug, and I tried the medical video for a migraine drug.
And I found it to be very easy in terms of it gave me four providers that I could use. It told me how much it costs the video was a little bit more expensive at $75. And the text messaging had a little bit more friction. I needed to produce a recent blood pressure reading. I also needed to show what my prior prescriptions were. So it was a little bit of work on my part, which I think people in the clinical field, if I’m wearing my clinical hat, that’s a good thing. We want to like make sure there is a screening, that it’s not so easy just to text message someone a product or a medicine that they don’t deserve.
So I think this is getting closer to what Amazon’s core strength is around being one of the largest e-commerce providers in the nation. I think it’s still unfolding. I think the comments you made earlier about grocery now trying to get its footing by consolidating assets, I think Amazon is starting to consolidate these health care assets around what it does really well. And that really is more of an online service and accessing their prime membership.
– What does that tell you? Your experience says a lot about what we see right now with the service. What does that tell you about who their core population is, target population is considering they do have the broad reach of their e-commerce platform. But then simultaneously, it’s cash pay only. They’re not in with insurers. And this kind of goes along the line of the criticisms that have built up over the years of Amazon not really being able to figure out the broader, more complex health care system. Do you think that this is just going to be a version one and there’s going to be a beta?
MEGHAN FITZGERALD: Yeah. I don’t know. It’s a great point. I mean, that’s the most important point they don’t accept insurance they said yet, as if they would be planning to do that. So this is still very much a cash pay market. If you look at the 30 conditions, they’re the conditions that you often see in younger people with a little bit of a chronic element to it, whether it’s allergies, migraine, rosacea, dermatology, erectile dysfunction. This really is a group that normally would be using telehealth and paying cash because they have the cash.
So I think time will tell whether they’re going to start to really hit the Medicare population or larger segments of the commercial market where it would be expected you can use your insurance. A side note though is at the end of the process, it does allow you to send the prescription to any pharmacy you want and use your insurance. So I can send a prescription on to CVS, then have my PBM benefit kick in. I’m just not able to use my insurance for the actual clinical visit, if you will, even though it’s electronic and virtual.
– Meghan Fitzgerald, always great to get your perspective on all of these different issues, and our Angelique Khemlani. Thanks to you both.