Amazon dives deeper into health in 2020

From expanding its employee health offerings to launching its first health wearable, Amazon had a busy 2020.
By Mallory Hackett
11:08 am
 From expanding its employee health offerings to launching its first health wearable, Amazon had a busy 2020.

All eyes have watched to see what Amazon’s next move in the health space would be ever since its collaboration with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase was announced in 2018.

The joint venture, however, has been fairly quiet since its announcement. It took more than a year for the company to announce its name – Haven. Other than that, the only word from Haven was the appointment, and eventual stepping down, of Dr. Atul Gawande as CEO.

Haven’s lack of activity, paired with the departure of numerous executives, has led some to question the viability of the venture.

Outside of Haven, Amazon has made its own moves in the health space. The online retail giant made a splash last year with news ranging from automated voice medication reminders on the Amazon Alexa to a feud between Amazon’s PillPack and Surescripts.

Looking back on the year past, Amazon’s initial jump into the healthcare space has turned into a deep dive as it furthered past ventures in voice commands and the employee health space, and waded into the world of wearables.

Even with the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, Amazon was able to increase its sales, income, cash flow and employment, according to its third quarter 2020 fiscal results.

Read on below for a recap of Amazon’s 2020:

February: Amazon began the year by launching the months-long-awaited Amazon Care, a virtual primary care offering for its Seattle-based employees. Its services can address everyday health, urgent care, sexual health, travel consultations and general health questions.

June: As the coronavirus raged throughout the world, Amazon came under fire for a spike in cases in some of its warehouses, according to NBC. Following the outbreaks, the company said it had plans to build a diagnostic lab, in part to help test its warehouse employees, CNBC reported.

July: Amazon moved further into employee health as it signed a deal with Crossover Health to give Amazon employees and their families access to local medical centers. The pilot program started in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area, but Amazon’s end goal is to have 20 of this type of employee-only health center around the country.

August: Amazon Alexa emerged into the dental care space with a deal with Oral-B. The pair collaborated on a voice-integrated toothbrush system that gives users tips on their brushing habits. The joint system comes with an Oral-B electric toothbrush and a smart charging base with Alexa built into it. Users can tap into the system to get real-time feedback about brushing, via voice tech, and an analysis of their habits over time through a smartphone app.

Later in August, Amazon entered the world of wearables with the Amazon Halo, an on-wrist health tracker with an accompanying app. It tracks activity and sleep, measures body fat percentage and listens to users’ tone of voice to help them understand how they sound to others.

November: This month saw a slew of new features for Alexa, called the Care Hub, that focus on helping U.S. users check in on an aging family member from afar. The features allow users to program a set of activity alerts that are delivered from an in-home Alexa-enabled device to the caregiver's Alexa app. These can include a heads up when a senior first uses their Alexa device each day, or a warning if no activity is detected by a certain time.

Amazon also launched a digital pharmacy, called Amazon Pharmacy, that lets customers order and manage their prescription medications online and get them delivered at home. The announcement came roughly two years after Amazon acquired digital pharmacy PillPack for just under $1 billion. PillPack will be rolled into Amazon Pharmacy but is continuing as its own service to prepackage multiple daily medications for its users.

December: Wrapping up the year, Amazon Web Services announced a new cloud storage and analysis service available to healthcare and life sciences organizations, called HealthLake. It allows organizations to store, tag, index, standardize, query and apply machine learning to analyze data in the cloud, as well as automatically structure information into HL7's FHIR standard. 

Rumors also started circulating that the company will begin selling its Amazon Care services to other large companies, according to five anonymous sources who spoke to Business Insider.

Following the announcement of the Amazon Halo in August, the health tracker was met with criticism over what The Washington Post called “the most invasive tech we’ve ever tested.” The Halo also attracted negative attention from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar over privacy concerns about the Halo.

Still, the Amazon Halo became available for public purchase this month, according to CNBC.


Taking Stock of Progress and Looking Ahead

This December, we look back at a challenging year – and forward to what we hope is a better, stronger, more connected and resilient healthcare ecosystem.

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