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Amazon Launches Messaging-Based Virtual Care Service

Anuja Vaidya

November 15, 2022

Called Amazon Clinic, the new service enables healthcare consumers to connect with clinicians via a message-based portal and receive care for common medical conditions like acne and UTIs.

A few months after announcing plans to shutter its telehealth business, Amazon has launched a new virtual care clinic.

Called Amazon Clinic, the message-based service is currently available in 32 states. It offers virtual care for more than 20 common medical conditions, including acne, cold sores, seasonal allergies, and urinary tract infections. The service also provides access to birth control services.

Healthcare consumers can choose to receive care from a network of telehealth providers, including SteadyMD and Health Tap.

After selecting a provider, the consumer completes an intake questionnaire. They are then connected with a clinician via a message-based portal. Once the consultation is over, the clinician sends a treatment plan to the patient through the portal. Clinicians can also send needed prescriptions to a preferred pharmacy or Amazon's online pharmacy.

The service further allows users to exchange messages with the selected clinician for up to two weeks after the initial consultation.

READ MORE: National Telehealth Use Appears to be Stabilizing

"We believe that improving both the occasional and ongoing engagement experience is necessary to making care dramatically better," Nworah Ayogu, MD, chief medical officer and general manager at Amazon Clinic, wrote in a company blog post. "We also believe that customers should have the agency to choose what works best for them. Amazon Clinic is just one of the ways we're working to empower people to take control of their health by providing access to convenient, affordable care in partnership with trusted providers."

Amazon Clinic costs will vary by provider. Prices will be disclosed upfront, and according to the 'frequently asked questions' section of the blog post, the prices are "equivalent or less than the average copay." The service does not yet accept health insurance, but consumers can use flexible spending and health savings accounts to make payments. They can also use their insurance to pay for medications.

Amazon plans to expand the virtual care clinic to additional states in the coming months.

The news comes on the heels of the technology giant announcing that it will close its Amazon Care business by the end of the year. Amazon Care included both telehealth and in-person care and was positioned as an employer-focused service. Initially open to only Amazon employees in the Seattle area, the company began offering the service to other businesses in 2021 and even signed deals to extend it to Silicon Labs, TrueBlue, and Whole Foods Market employees earlier this year.

But leaders decided to shut down Amazon Care because it was "not a complete enough offering for the large enterprise customers we have been targeting, and wasn’t going to work long-term," Amazon Health Services Senior Vice President Neil Lindsay said in an internal company memo.

READ MORE: Telehealth Patient Satisfaction On Par with In-Person Care During Pandemic

Unlike Amazon Care, it appears that Amazon Clinic will operate as a connector, enabling consumers to gain access to telehealth provided by established virtual care companies.

"By abandoning Amazon Care in favor of Amazon Clinic, Amazon is doubling down on what they are good at — going directly to the consumer," said Allison Oakes, PhD, director of research at market research firm Trilliant Health, in an email. "Capitalizing on what they are good at, it seems like Amazon will create a marketplace for providers and patients to connect, rather than employing their own network of doctors. This will allow them to keep their costs low and scale quickly. It will be interesting to learn more about the economics of a marketplace model, which traditionally are based upon allocating revenue between the provider of the good or service and the operator of the marketplace. Given long-standing prohibitions against fee-splitting, it will be interesting to understand Amazon's economic upside."

Further, because of the current cash-only payment model, Amazon Clinic may only attract relatively young and healthy patients, which is unlikely to improve population health, Oakes added.

The shuttering of Amazon Care and launch of Amazon Clinic follow the company's purchase of One Medical. This may point to Amazon's growing focus on a hybrid care strategy overall.

"It is interesting that Amazon Clinic is doubling down on virtual-only care, despite the fact that telehealth visits have declined by 37 percent from Q2 2020 to Q1 2022," Oakes said. "They may see Amazon Clinic as the 'digital front door' for One Medical patient acquisition."

READ MORE: Patients Prefer Telehealth for Primary Care, Mental Health Needs

Today's announcement appears to bolster that idea, with Ayogu noting in the blog post that if healthcare consumers are seeking virtual care for a condition that may be better treated in person, the service will let them know before they are connected to a telehealth provider.

"Virtual care isn't right for every problem," he wrote.

Editor's note: The article was updated at 2:50 om ET with comments from Trilliant Health's Dr. Allison Oakes.

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