- Amazon has the $3.5 trillion US healthcare industry on edge waiting to see how the tech juggernaut will confront it.
- On a recent trip to Seattle, we asked healthcare and life-science executives what they’d expect or be interested in seeing Amazon do in healthcare.
- From forming a health-insurance company to making blood testing cheaper, here are their most fascinating ideas.
Amazon’s moves into healthcare have already sent shockwaves through the healthcare industry.
News of its acquisition of PillPack in June, its plans for a joint healthcare venture with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway, and its work supplying hospitals with health equipment have all sent would-be competitors into a tizzy.
And Amazon’s not alone: Google, Facebook, and Apple have expressed interests in getting into healthcare too.
So far, it seems like we’re still in the early innings of figuring out Amazon’s healthcare ambitions, and the entire $3.5 trillion industry is on edge.
While on a recent trip to Seattle, Business Insider spoke to healthcare executives and life-science leaders and asked for their personal opinions about what they’d like or expect to see from the tech giant.
Starting a telehealth service
Xealth CEO Mike McSherry said one of the next steps he’d like to see the tech giant take would be to offer some sort of telemedicine service that could be bundled into Prime. Before running Xealth, McSherry spent his career working in mobile, founding companies including Boost Mobile and Swype.
“If I think where Amazon could go, I think they could do a nationwide telehealth service included in Amazon Prime,” McSherry said.
Amazon could become a health insurer
McSherry listed everything Amazon already owns, from Whole Foods, to PillPack, to devices like Alexa that could one day be used to remotely monitor people. The information Amazon would be able to gather from all of those sources would give the company a fairly comprehensive picture of an individual.
That could be useful information should Amazon want to get into the health-insurance business.
“Ultimately, they could become an insurer themselves, because of their aggregate lifestyle view and risk stratification,” McSherry said.
Making it easier to get healthcare
Providence St. Joseph Health Chief Digital Officer Aaron Martin, a former Amazon employee, broadened the question.
“What you’re going to see is their ability to take very close relationships that they’ve got with consumers and help give them easier access to care,” Martin said.
One thing he doesn’t see happening: big-tech players replacing hospitals and doctors’ offices. Providence is a health system with 51 hospitals that made $23 billion in revenue in 2017. The health system has been working to make it easier for patients to see doctors, too.
“There’s always going to be a role for these large health systems,” Martin said.
However, it’s on the health systems to make it easy for tech companies to work with them. “It would be harder for them to go in and retrofit a health system that hasn’t made those types of investments,” Martin said.
Engaging with patients
Matthew Trunnell, chief information officer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has his eye on Amazon’s joint health venture with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan and what might come out of that. The goal of the year-old health venture will be to find ways to lower healthcare costs for the companies’ employees, though there haven’t been many details about what that looks like.
“That’s a way that they can look at a focused population around some things,” Trunnell said.
That includes finding ways to get patients engaged in their health, which isn’t an easy task. He said healthcare companies would have to figure out ways to keep in touch with patients who don’t rely on talking to them about their health.
“How do you make that connection? How do you get people to want to interact? Because it turns out it’s probably not getting them to care about their health,” Trunnell said. “Except for a few acute times, that’s not what people care about.”
Cutting out the intermediaries
Generally though, he expects Amazon to do in healthcare what it’s done to other industries: find ways to cut out intermediaries.
“Just looking at what they’ve done everywhere else they’ve gone. It’s about how do you empower the consumer and disintermediate other elements?” Trunnell said.
Fred Hutch, for its part, has been tapping its tech neighbor’s talent.
Amazon executive Mike Clayville is on Fred Hutch’s board of trustees, and the organization is working on projects with Amazon like Comprehend Medical, which aims to sift through medical records to identify key words that researchers can then use to link patients with clinical trials.
Amazon could bring down the cost of blood testing
Dr. Lee Hood, Providence’s chief science officer and the chief strategy officer and cofounder of the Institute for Systems Biology, has an idea for how Amazon could shake up healthcare: find a way to bring down the cost of blood testing.
While that may seem like a familiar story, it’s something that still hasn’t exactly been solved. The cost of genetic sequencing has come down dramatically over the past decade, but blood tests haven’t had the same experience.
Hood, a legendary biologist who was instrumental in building technology to study genomics, currently advocates for prevention and wellness. Hood is the cofounder of a startup called Arivale, which provides wellness coaching that includes genetic- and blood-testing data points meant to track how healthy a person is. That’s still an expensive task — Arivale’s comprehensive program costs $199 a month.
The high price, Hood said, is thanks to the cost of blood testing. If that came down, it could make programs like Arivale cheaper.
“They could themselves bring the cost of these assays down incredibly,” Hood said. “That would then make wellness accessible to people at all income levels.”
- Read more:
- The man who predicted that Amazon would buy Whole Foods now expects the tech giant will soon be the world’s fastest-growing healthcare company
- A former Amazon executive made a big mistake when he first joined a major hospital system, and it could be a warning for tech companies trying to shake up healthcare
- The hospital in Amazon’s backyard has a plan to disrupt itself before being disrupted by big tech companies
- 6 top VCs give their best 2019 predictions for healthcare, from a biotech correction to a ‘shadow cash economy’ stepping into the light
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