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Need a doctor? Amazon is expanding its telehealth services nationwide

Amazon Care is also bringing in-person medical care to 20 more cities, underscoring the e-commerce giant's growing commitment to the lucrative health sector.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Amazon on Tuesday announced that it's expanding Amazon Care, bringing in-person medical care to 20 more cities and extending virtual healthcare services nationwide. 

Amazon Care launched in September 2019 as a service just for Amazon employees, and its continued expansion underscores the e-commerce giant's ongoing interest in the lucrative -- but notoriously challenging -- health sector. In its fourth quarter earnings report earlier this week, Amazon specifically cited Amazon Care as one of  the many areas in which the company intends to invest in the coming year. 

Last year, Amazon made Amazon Care available to businesses in Washington state, and the service is now also available in Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Austin, Los Angeles, Arlington, and Washington, DC. The 20 new cities the company plans to serve with in-person care in 2022 include major metropolitan areas like San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, and New York City. 

The launch of Amazon Care preceded the Covid-19 pandemic, which upended a US healthcare system already desperately in need of reform. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased demand to bring care to patients' homes—whether that be virtually or through in-home care services," Amazon said in its blog post. "Amazon Care is uniquely positioned to fill a critical gap in the health care system because it combines the best of virtual care with a new approach to in-person care."

Via a clinical services provider called Care Medical, Amazon has hired doctors and nurses across the country who are dedicated to treating Amazon Care customers. The service provides access to a range of urgent and primary care services, including COVID-19 and flu testing, vaccinations, treatment of illnesses and injuries, preventive care, sexual health, and prescription requests and refills. When issues can't be resolved over video, Amazon Care dispatches a nurse practitioner to a patient's home for additional care where in-person care is available.

Amazon said its new service "is becoming the partner of choice for organizations looking to advance workplace benefits." Its customers so far include Silicon Labs and TrueBlue.

While use of telehealth has been growing for years, the pandemic did indeed drive the need for virtual health services

Amazon is far from the only company responding to the demand. Last year, Verizon launched BlueJeans Telehealth, a version of the videoconferencing platform designed expressly for healthcare organizations. Other vendors like Omron and Philips have responded with a number of telehealth innovations, home monitoring, and virtual health products and services. Startups like HelloMD, Teladoc Helath, and Doctor on Demand have entered the market, and Amazon's retail competitor Wal-Mart acquired telehealth provider MeMD last year.  

It should come as no surprise that there's so much interest in the health sector: US health care spending grew 9.7 percent in 2020, reaching $4.1 trillion or $12,530 per person. As a share of the nation's Gross Domestic Product, health spending accounted for 19.7 percent.

At the same time, the market is crowded with entrenched, powerful players. The space is also bogged down by complex and politically-fraught regulations. 

The challenges are significant enough that Amazon folded one its other high-profile healthcare ventures -- a joint project with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway called Haven, which shut down after three years. 

Amazon also has other health-related initiatives. In 2018, the company bought PillPack, a company that's the equivalent of Prime for medications, delivering drugs through the mail. That acquisition is being put to work as part of Amazon Care. Meanwhile, the company has put a health spin on some of its hardware, such as the Amazon Halo, a fitness band with health-related functionality. Additionally, Alexa-powered devices, like the Echo Show and Dot, offer some health-related skills.

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