In 2018, Amazon teamed up with JPMorgan, Berkshire Hathaway, acquired consumer-facing online pharmacy

Amazon's 2018 news also included new hires, machine learning tools for healthcare organizations and more.
By Laura Lovett
10:49 am

2018 revealed some of Amazon’s biggest moves into the healthcare space. The year kicked off with the major announcement that the retail and tech giant was teaming up with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase to build its own nonprofit healthcare entity. As the year unfolded the public would hear more details about the leadership and location of the venture. 

In addition to the venture, Amazon also set its sights on companies already in the space. In June it acquired online pharmacy Pill Pack for just under $1 billion, according to reports. Then, in the fall, Amazon news shifted from the consumer space to the provider space after announcing a slew of HIPAA-eligible services, including a machine learning tool for healthcare developers. 

Read on for a timeline of Amazon’s healthcare news of 2018: 

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January 30, 2018: Amazon announced a major collaboration Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to build an independent, nonprofit healthcare company with the goal of increasing user satisfaction and reducing costs. 

The first order of business, the partners announced, is focusing on technology solutions that will provide US employees and their families simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost. They plan to draw on their combined capabilities and resources to take a fresh approach.

April 3, 2018: Amazon started making major hires in the field. According to a CNBC scoop, Dr. Taha Kass-Hout, former FDA chief health informatics officer, was hired by the company. Kass-Hout was set to serve in a business development role.  

April 9, 2018: After the Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JPMorgan collaboration was announced, there was — and continue to be — a lot of questions about what this venture means. The first glimpse into the future came from JP Morgan Case CEO Jamie Dimon in a written note to his shareholders. 

"Here are just a few places where we know we can do better: The United States has some of the best healthcare in the world, including our doctors, nurses, hospitals and clinical research,” he wrote in the letter. “However, we also have some of the worst — in terms of some outcomes and costs. Administrative and fraud costs are estimated to be 25 percent to 40 percent of total health-care spend. Chronic disease accounts for 75 percent of spend concentrated on six conditions, which, in many cases, are preventable or reversible. While we don’t know the exact fix to this problem, we do know the process that will help us fix it. We need to form a bipartisan group of experts whose direct charge is to fix our healthcare system. I am convinced that this can be done, and if done properly, it will actually improve the outcomes and satisfaction of all American citizens.”

April 27, 2018: Hype continued to grow around what the tech giant's next move in the healthcare industry would be. In the spring Venrock released its 2018 Healthcare Prognosis Survey. When asked which of five tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and IBM) would make the most progress in 2018, 51 percent of responders named Amazon. 

May 11, 2018: Rumors went flying that Amazon would start a health and wellness focused team within its Alexa voice assistant division after CNBC obtained leaked documents. The new information from CNBC's anonymous sources suggested that we can expect the group to start looking at diabetes management, care for mothers and infants and tools for the aging population.

June 20, 2018: Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan tapped Dr. Atul Gawande to head up its venture. Gawande serves as a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, professor at Harvard’s T.H Chan School of Public Health and a staff writer at The New Yorker. 

The trio also announced that the base for its new venture will be headquartered in Boston. 

June 28, 2018: In June Amazon acquired virtual pharmacy PillPack. This deal indicated that Amazon may be expanding its services to include prescription medication. Amazon was widely reported to have spent just under $1 billion on the deal. 

Pill Pack delivers medications in pre-sorted dose packaging, coordinates refills and renewals and ensures that shipments are sent on time. 

August 13, 2018: Amazon was one of several tech giants that that pledged to remove interoperability barriers at an unscheduled session at the Blue Button 2 Developer Conference at the White House. However, none of the companies gave specific details about how they would tackle these problems. 

August 22, 2018: Amazon started making big hires in the medical realm. Dr. Maulik Majmudar, associate director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Healthcare Transformation Lab, left to join Amazon’s team. 

October 1, 2018: Amazon’s Alexa Fund invested in another digital health company Aiva, a patient voice assistant that specializes in hands-free communication between patients and caregivers. In fact, Amazon wasn’t the only tech giant to invest in this technology — the Google Assistant Investment Program also ikicked in some support. 

October 10, 2018: Amazon was granted a new patent for an Alex feature that would allow the device to passively detect signs of illness and recommend remedies. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll see this on the market anytime soon. Companies, especially large, over-resourced ones like Amazon, often receive patent applications that never become commercial products. But some patents do come to pass and they can be a useful indicator of what companies are thinking about for the future. 

October 26, 2018: Amazon inked a deal with Arcadia to exclusively sell its new line of consumer-use medical devices, called the Choice brand. The companies said they'll kick off the brand with blood glucose and blood pressure monitors alongside accompanying apps. 

November 8, 2018: Amazon Web Service (AWS) has added to its collection of HIPAA-eligible services, which now includes machine learning tools Amazon Translate, Amazon Comprehend and Amazon Transcribe. 

The newly HIPAA-eligible products cater to a variety of different health needs, but primarily center around management and patient engagement. Amazon Transcribe is a speech-to-text service; with this new designation, it will be able to create a transcript of a provider-patient call. The Amazon Translate technology can now be employed to help doctors and patients communicate regardless of language barriers. Lastly, Amazon Comprehend analyzes patient-provider conversations and zeros in on specific “key phrases” to improve patient interactions in the future. 

November 28, 2018: Amazon Web Services unveiled a new machine learning tool that looks to help healthcare industry developers process bodies of unstructured medical text.

Called Amazon Comprehend Medical, the HIPAA-eligible service is able to pull out medically-relevant information such as patient diagnoses, symptoms, medical test details, treatments and dosages, while simultaneously highlighting any protected health information.


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