Tech companies are still tracing their healthcare lanes

Last year, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy described Amazon Care as one of the company’s most exciting innovations. But on Wednesday, employees learned that Amazon Care would be shutting down at the end of the year, an abrupt end to a program once at the center of its plans to reshape healthcare.

The sudden shutdown doesn’t mean Amazon is running out of Healthcare — it could just mean a reframing. It recently bought One Medical, a subscription-based primary care company that offers services similar to Amazon Care. Reports indicate that Amazon is also interested in home health technology company Signify Health. Amazon still wants to take on healthcare, but it’s making its approach clear: Instead of building from scratch, it’s taking things it’s already working on.

Other tech giants are going through a similar process of honing their health care strategies. When companies like Amazon, Google and Apple first began forecasting their healthcare ambitions about five years ago, the goals were high — disrupting and redefining the multi-trillion-dollar health industry in the United States.

Initial attempts to swing big were less than successful. Amazon partnered with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to try to build its own healthcare company for employees from scratch, and that venture collapsed in 2021. Apple tried to make it its primary care service, but data integrity issues raised by employees derailed the project. Google dissolved its health department last summer and redistributed its health efforts across other teams. Many Big Tech efforts to contribute to the COVID-19 response efforts have failed.

Until recently, Amazon Care was moving in a positive direction — it expanded nationwide and had customers like Hilton and Silicon Labs. But according to a memo from Amazon senior health vice president Neil Lindsay, it wasn’t a “full enough offering” that big customers wanted to see in a health care product. Health professionals working with Amazon Care told Washington Post that they were concerned about patient safety.

With the deal to acquire One Medical, they’ll have another issue with Amazon Care — mixing two separate data systems, says Brendan Keeler, product manager for health technology company Zus Health and a specialist in healthcare data systems. Given both, it makes sense that they would focus on One Medical rather than trying to build a new primary care service from the ground up, he says. The process of building Amazon Care gave Amazon a better understanding of what a health care solution would look like, Lindsay said in her memo. A medical might fit that picture better – and it comes off the shelf as a complete offering.

Amazon is good on the customer experience side of things, but doesn’t have as much expertise with the service that’s actually being delivered in this case: healthcare. “Health care is hard, and they are smart enough to see the right strategy for them,” Keeler says. “It’s them looking at their bets and saying, buying proven solutions, Amazon-opposing them, and scaling them how we want to go.”

It’s a similar approach that Amazon took with its pharmacy programs. It bought pharmacy startup PillPack in 2018. Then, in 2020, it launched Amazon Pharmacy, which also offers home delivery for prescriptions — and was built on top of PillPack.

Like Amazon, Google and Apple want to carve out the parts of healthcare that really matter to them. As for Google, it may be developing algorithms and backend tools, which it can then give to health organizations to use. Apple is good at consumer technology – providing care may not be its vision itself, but smartwatch features and easy-to-use personal health records are more in its field. “It makes more sense that what they transcend is bringing their special expertise in a way that they can only because of their scale,” Keller says.

Tech expertise was never going to be a magical cure-all for the many, many problems plaguing the American healthcare system. It is a cumbersome, uneven, taut beast that is held together by fax machines and carried to its breaking point by the pandemic. The early failures and growing pains came as no surprise to those who work in healthcare and understand its complexity. But tech interest in health isn’t new or shiny anymore, and if companies want to advance in the space, they’ll have to find a corner of it that makes sense to them.

However, finding it doesn’t guarantee success, and only time will tell if these companies are able to make major changes in their target areas — again, healthcare is tough. But if they’re able to figure out ways to map the things they’re already good at on health products, they may find a way forward. “If they’re not, it will lead to failure,” Keller says.

Source link

Leave a Comment