Is Amazon Setting Its Sights on Home Health Care?

Monday, April 02, 2018





It’s hard to imagine that just 20 years ago, Amazon was a relatively new online bookseller, best known for offering deep discounts on bestselling titles. Today, Amazon still sells books, but it also sells just about everything else — and Jeff Bezos has expanded his empire to include everything from toys, clothing, and groceries to cloud services, product fulfillment services, and even in-home services such as cleaning or home repairs.

It only makes sense, then, that Amazon has set its sights on health care. And given the disruptive force that the Seattle-based company has been on every other industry it’s entered, there’s no reason to expect that healthcare will be any different. This begs the question, then, of how Amazon might potentially impact the home health care industry in the future.

From Pharmacy to Medical Benefits to Alexa: Amazon’s Potential Impact

Right away, it’s useful to note that most industry experts do not expect Amazon to offer in-home health care services, at least any time soon, despite the company’s foray into offering other types of in-home services.However, that doesn’t mean that Amazon won’t disrupt the industry in other ways.

One area that is gaining a lot of attention is the use of Alexa as tool for supporting home health care. Tech investors are already predicting that Alexa, and similar “smart assistants” like Google Home, are likely to be a driving force in reducing health care costs. As investor Roger McNamee pointed out on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley,” "With Amazon you have a lot of technology that people have around the home that if properly applied can help them be well every day so that their needs for health care are discovered sooner when they're cheaper.”

Proactively addressing potential issues is one way that some home health agencies are tapping into the power of Alexa to improve care. Some agencies have developed voice applications, known as “skills” in Amazon parlance, that allow patients and their families to remain connected to the agency and get advice, information, and guidance when necessary. For example, a client might use Alexa to call for help in the event of a fall, or to provide medication reminders throughout the day. The information collected by Alexa could then potentially be synced with the home health software used by the agency, so that providers and family members can easily see what’s happening and identify issues before they become serious.

One of the major advantages of using Amazon’s Alexa in a home health care setting is the fact that it uses machine learning to anticipate a user’s needs and provide information and assistance when necessary. For example, if a patient doesn’t provide certain information regarding medication or compliance with hospital discharge instructions, Alexa will not only record and share that information with the home health providers, but also identify patterns in patient behavior that could indicate a future or burgeoning issue.

However, while a voice activated assistant is getting most of the attention, Amazon is also making other strides that will potentially disrupt the health care industry as a whole. For starters, the company is moving into the realm of pharmacy. Amazon is already working with pharmaceutical manufacturer Perrigo on a line of over-the-counter medications marketed as Basic Care, at price points significantly lower than most brick-and-mortar pharmacies.

There is also speculation that the company is planning to enter the drug distribution chain at some point in the next few years, by acquiring a third-party prescription drug benefit administrator or a pharmacy benefit management company. By doing so, Amazon could disrupt the pharmaceuticals industry, potentially lowering the cost of medication and changing the ways medicines are distributed to consumers.

Amazon also recently partnered with Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan Chase to form an independent company with the mission of developing technology that will simplify health care while reducing costs for Amazon’s U.S.-based employees and families. As part of this, some experts predict that Amazon will pay close attention to home care, as it is proven to be more cost effective than other forms of care. Although this new company isn’t a new insurer, and the focus is on providing health care for Amazon employees, the ideas and technology that come from this company are likely to trickle down to other employers and health insurers, changing the way healthcare is delivered.

The health care industry as a whole is in a time of transition and change. As companies like Amazon, which have not traditionally operated within this space, develop new ideas and technologies, expect even more changes to take hold. In the meantime, take some time to explore the new and exciting technologies that Complia Health is bringing to the home health care industry, and the tools and software that are helping home health agencies across the country work more efficiently and provide better quality care.