It wasn’t until last year that Amazon CEO Andy Jassy called Amazon Care one of the most exciting innovations in the business. But on Wednesday, employees learned that Amazon Care would close at the end of the year, an abrupt end to a program once central to his plans to overhaul health care.
The abrupt shutdown doesn’t mean Amazon is pulling out of healthcare — it could just mean reframing. He recently bought subscription-based primary care company One Medical, which offers services similar to Amazon Care. Reports indicate that Amazon is also interested in home healthcare technology company Signify Health. Amazon still wants to take care of health, but it’s clarifying its approach: instead of building from scratch, it’s taking things that already work.
Other tech giants are going through a similar process to refine their healthcare strategies. When companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple began planning their healthcare ambitions about five years ago, the goals were ambitious: to disrupt and redefine the multi-trillion-dollar healthcare industry in the United States.
Early attempts to swing big were less than successful. Amazon has teamed up with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to try to start your own healthcare company for employees from scratch, and this adventure collapsed in 2021. Apple attempted to create its own primary care service, but data integrity issues raised by employees derailed the project. Google dissolved its Health division last summer and redistributed its health efforts among other teams. Many big tech efforts to help with COVID-19 response efforts have failed.
Until recently, Amazon Care seemed to be moving in a positive direction — it expanded nationwide and had customers like Hilton and Silicon Labs. But according to a memo from Amazon’s senior vice president of health, Neil Lindsay, it wasn’t a “comprehensive enough offering” that big customers wanted to see in a health product. Healthcare professionals working with Amazon Care said The Washington Post that they were concerned about patient safety.
With the agreement to acquire One Medical, they would have another problem with Amazon Care – combining two different data systems, says Brendan Keeler, product manager at health technology company Zus Health and data systems expert. health. Looking at the two, it makes sense that they would focus on One Medical rather than trying to create a new primary care service from scratch, he says. The process of creating Amazon Care gave Amazon a better understanding of what healthcare solutions should look like, Lindsay said in her memo. One Medical might fit that image better – and it’s a comprehensive offering.
Amazon is good on the customer experience side, but doesn’t have as much expertise with the service that’s actually provided in this case: healthcare. “Health care is tough, and they’re smart enough to see the right strategy for them,” Keeler says. “They are the ones watching their bets and saying that buying proven solutions, retaining them at Amazon and scaling them is how we get to where we want to go.”
It’s a similar approach to what Amazon has taken with its pharmacy programs. He bought pharmacy startup PillPack in 2018. Then, in 2020, he launched Amazon Pharmacy, which also offers home delivery for prescriptions — and was built on top of PillPack.
Like Amazon, Google and Apple are looking to carve out the parts of healthcare that actually make sense to them. For Google, it might be about developing backend algorithms and tools that it could then hand over to healthcare organizations for them to use. Apple is good at consumer tech – caregiving itself may not be its approach, but smartwatch functionality and easy-to-use personal health records are more in its zone. “It makes more sense that the breakthroughs they make bring their particular expertise to bear in ways that they can only do because of their scale,” Keller says.
Technological expertise was never going to be a magic bullet for the many problems plaguing America’s healthcare system. It is a heavy, inequitable, sprawling beast, held down by fax machines and brought to breaking point by the pandemic. Early failures and growing pains came as no surprise to people who work in healthcare and understand its complexity. But tech interest in health is no longer new or shiny, and if companies are to continue to enter the space, they’ll need to find the corner that makes sense to them.
Finding it, however, does not guarantee success, and only time will tell if these companies are able to make the kinds of significant changes in the areas they are targeting – again, healthcare is tough. But if they’re able to find ways to map the things they’re already good at on health products, they might find a way forward. “If they aren’t, it will lead to failure,” Keller says.