Amazon announced the expansion of Amazon Care — its virtual care pilot program — to all of its US employees starting this summer. While this is a major milestone in the making, the announcement also highlights what Forrester sees as even bigger industry news: Amazon’s intent to offer the virtual care program as a service for other employers nationally. This comes on the heels of exponential increases in adoption of virtual care by consumers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virtual-first primary care models have gained popularity in the last couple of years, with offerings from Kaiser Permanente, UnitedHealthcare, Firefly Health, Amwell, and Humana’s announcement in 2019 with support from Doctor on Demand. Doctor on Demand and Grand Rounds announced its merger this week, as well, with expectations of continuing to serve this trend of virtual primary care.

Amazon Care Leads With Ease, Access, And Affordability

Healthcare must meet consumers where they are, and Amazon offers multiple ways for consumers to get the care they need, including virtual care delivery or in-person visits in the patient’s home or office. With the expansion of Amazon Care, the company will deliver:

  1. Services for patients/users well beyond urgent care needs. This will include lifestyle and wellness coaching, sleep care, and preventative services such as immunizations, including pediatric vaccinations and COVID-19 vaccinations for those who are eligible. As many are struggling through complex, confusing experiences signing up for a vaccine, this could be a game changer for employers that want to bring employees back into the office.
  2. Support for ongoing chronic care. Chronic care management delivered as a virtual-first model is expected to gain more traction in the market, including through virtual primary care models. Forrester projected this area to be the biggest driver of virtual care in 2021, representing up to 63% of all visits or an estimate of 280 million visits for chronic or routine care.
  3. Help for employees suffering from joint pain. With millions working from home, remote setups are highly variable, with employees working from kitchen counters to couches and even closets. Companies like Kiio, Physera (owned by Omada Health), and Kaia Health have seen success in this area already. Back and joint pain are known drivers of medical spend and disability claims, with joint pain ranking third in short-term claims and back disorders third for long-term disability claims.

What Is Different About Amazon’s Approach?

Amazon has taken a different path to market (unlike incumbents in the virtual-first care space), as it is:

  1. Focusing on employers, not health plans. By contracting directly with employers, Amazon will reduce overhead administrative costs, which will in turn lower the cost of care and the cost passed on to both employers and their employees. Comparatively, companies such as Heal and DispatchHealth have primarily targeted partnerships with health insurance companies to bring their services to members.
  2. Offering a turnkey option for employers. Forrester called the shift of employers becoming healthcare companies in our predictions for 2021, and as employers look to safely reopen offices and offer onsite/near-site clinics to monitor and support employees, the needs will be diverse. This will be a potential sweet spot for Amazon Care.

What Is Next?

The big question: Will it hold up? While the ability to scale is in Amazon’s DNA, when it comes to Amazon Care, the deployments are currently on the smaller end of the spectrum, as it has been focused on Amazon employees. Time will tell if Amazon Care will be ready for prime time and if the business model will be profitable. While Amazon Care is targeting employers for now, future partnership with health insurance companies would serve to benefit its efforts.

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