Amazon Rising 2.0

Aug. 24, 2022

Four years ago, I wrote in this space about how the healthcare industry should neither fear nor be irked by Amazon burrowing into the marketplace (See “Amazon Rising,” April 2018).

Earlier that year, Amazon formed something of a high-financed, high-powered corporate collaboration with Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway company and JP Morgan Chase. Through their loosely defined partnership that materialized under the short-lived startup Haven Healthcare, Amazon-Berkshire-Chase wanted to explore the A-B-Cs of healthcare administration, finance and operations with aims to improve all of it while also providing more affordable access to medical treatments and prescription drugs.

Three years later, come January 2021, the trio allowed Haven to fade even as they ran a victory lap around the media track, taking credit for generating ideas and insights that they planned to use when necessary to design healthcare program improvements for their individual and respective employee populations.

There’s nothing wrong with three multibillion-dollar companies throwing a lot of money at a problem they deem requires fixing. They have the resources, the skills and the talents to do it, so why not?

Most people recognize that true innovation starts not with a simple idea, but with someone willing to take that risky first step to try something different and new. Check.

This trio had two years to concentrate on their goals before the global pandemic disrupted everything in the Spring of 2020.

Amazon drilled through the pandemic, which exposed the long-hidden seedy underbelly of supply chain shortcomings, a necessary revelation to motivate companies to act. Amazon kept going and proved its freight-and-shipping, and distribution-and-logistics meddle to businesses, consumer residences and even healthcare organizations. Meanwhile, it also used intelligence gained during the Haven years to fortify its Amazon Care virtual health services that offered home health, telehealth, urgent care and primary care to a growing number of customers. They started in about 20 major cities and finally went nationwide earlier this year.

[Full disclosure: I do not own shares in Amazon, nor am I seeking to curry favor with Amazon Business to advertise.]

Amazon continued its march. Back in late July, the company acquired One Medical, which operates a network of boutique primary care practices – nearly 190 medical offices in 25 markets – to deliver on its Haven aims.

If you package One Medical’s primary care operations with Amazon Care’s remote care operations, along with its PillPack-driven online pharmacy, Amazon Health Services seems to be stitching together a curious model of distributor-provider-payer mix.

Still, we know that Amazon Business is making serious clinical and supply chain inroads with a growing number of healthcare organizations. This latest deal now positions the company as owner, provider and supplier of healthcare products and services. Imagine the supply chain implications if they can demonstrate how to get stuff to hospitals and physicians quickly and efficiently as well as provide clinical services to a growing patient base? Now imagine if Amazon chose to tunnel deeper into the market, acquiring an ambulatory surgery center chain next? Could an Amazon One Healthcare emerge by mid-decade?

All these dynamics – real or speculative – remain rather intriguing and should not be viewed as a threat. If anything, it should nudge the entire industry to break out it’s “A” game, encourage competition and motivate progress, even among the brays and howls of competitive anxiety.

What follows that first risky step of innovation? Another step.