From voice to virtual pharmacies: A look back at Amazon's 2019

This year Amazon continued employing voice for healthcare uses and marketing its newly acquired PillPack.
By MobiHealthNews
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Amazon has continued to make a splash in the digital health world in 2019. This year it has been particularly active in the voice space. Its efforts include everything from launching a new Amazon Alexa feature that reminds patients to take their medication to a medical transcription function that runs on Amazon Web Services. 

But Amazon hasn’t put all of its eggs in the voice basket. In 2018, the Seattle-based retail giant purchased virtual pharmacy PillPack for a staggering $753 million. This sent a clear message that Amazon was serious about its health efforts. Since the purchase, Amazon has started to market PillPack and most recently ink a deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts to integrate the service into the payer’s member app. 

Read on for a look back at Amazon’s timeline for 2019. 

April 4. In the spring, Amazon announced that its voice-based Alexa platform now supports the development of software that communicates HIPAA-protected health information through an invite-only Alexa Skills Kit program. To kick off the new capability, the company also highlighted the launch of six new Alexa skills built by healthcare providers and other stakeholders. The six new skills are My Children’s Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS), Livongo Blood Sugar Lookup, Swedish Health Connect, Cigna Health Today, Atrium Health and Express Scripts. 

April 24. Nearly a year after Amazon announced that it acquired virtual pharmacy PillPack, the retail giant started to market the service to its Amazon Prime members. Members received an email, which reportedly linked to a PillPack landing page advertising monthly home delivery services, prescription refill management and free service — with the only cost being copays. 

May 23. Bloomberg reports surfaced that Amazon is building a wrist-worn device and accompanying app that listens to the wearer’s voice to identify their emotions. Reportedly the system, code-named Dylan, is intended to be used as a health and wellness product and might be adapted to provide wearers with guidance on how they may more effectively socialize with others.

July 10. Over the summer the department of health and social care in England announced that the NHS is working with Amazon to make verified health information available through the AI-powered voice assistant Alexa. Amazon’s algorithms are set to use information from the NHS.UK resource to give people answers to questions about common illnesses, such as flu and chickenpox, with the hope that this will give patients more control of their health and care and relieve pressure on GPs.

July 22. Over the summer reports came out that Amazon was contemplating a lawsuit against electronic prescribing company Surescripts, which has taken action to prevent the former from accessing its patient information. A lawsuit could complicate matters for both businesses.

July 31. The feud between Amazon’s PillPack and Surescripts continued to escalate, with the latter barring ReMy Health — the third-party vendor from which PillPack was accessing patient data. Surescripts CEO Tom Skelton said in a release that a preliminary investigation yielded evidence suggesting that either ReMy Health or its customers had provided fraudulent information to Surescripts when requesting patient data.

September 24. Amazon announced its plans to launch Amazon Care, a virtual primary care offering for its Seattle-based employees. Amazon Care will include telemedicine, online chat with a nurse, medication delivery and app-enabled house calls to the employee's office or home. Amazon said it does not plan on hiring any doctors; instead, the company is contracting with a local clinic called Oasis Medical Group. 

October 24. Amazon swooped in to acquire digital health startup Health Navigator for an undisclosed amount. The Illinois-based company offers digital health clinical content in the form of APIs that can be used by EHRs, telemedicine providers, health chatbots and medical call centers. 

November 26. Amazon added a new feature that lets users link up their pharmacy prescription information and, in turn, get reminders about when to take their pills and order refills. The latest feature was born out of a collaboration between the online retail giant and Omnicell, a tech-enabled medication management company.

December 2. Earlier this month Amazon Web Services announced the launch of the Amazon Transcribe Medical, an automated speech recognition service that will let developers add medical diction and documentation to their apps. 

December 12. Amazon’s PillPack made a deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. As part of the deal, PillPack’s services will integrate into the payer’s MyBlue member app. As part of the agreement, Blue Cross members will have the option to switch their prescriptions over to PillPack directly from the MyBlue app without having to re-enter their insurance details or medication list.