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What does Amazon Pharmacy mean for the future of healthcare?
by Paul Davenport Paul Davenport on

For many folks, picking up prescriptions or visiting the pharmacy goes hand-in-hand with a trip to the grocery store, an arena that Amazon has already been disrupting through their pre-pandemic purchase of Whole Foods and the post-pandemic surge in online shopping.

By this logic, it only makes sense that Amazon is looking to take their increasingly brick-and-mortar wary grocery customers into the world of online pharmacies.

Last week marked the launch of Amazon Pharmacy, which allows customers to synchronize their health insurance information along with their Amazon Prime membership to manage the purchase and delivery of prescriptions. Along with delivering medication, Amazon Pharmacy also promises to connect members to “knowledgeable pharmacists” 24/7 as part of a self-service help portal.

This new service links a user’s insurance information with the same account and payment profile that many Amazon users now leverage regularly to place delivery grocery orders through Whole Foods, as well as for non-grocery items on the broader Amazon marketplace (and any other account that syncs with a user’s Amazon Prime profile).

While this new service theoretically enables some customers to only shop for essential items like medication and groceries online, it also enables Prime users to leverage their accounts for a more “complete” and seamless shopping experience both in-person and virtually. Amazon has partnered with 50,000 other participating pharmacies nationwide, for instance, to pass Prime savings onto customers who may be shopping in-store at non-Amazon retailers.

That said, Amazon Pharmacy promises shoppers will enjoy more savings and convenience when they make purchases within the corporate umbrella: The Amazon Prime prescription savings benefit can save members up to 80 percent off generic and 40 percent off brand name medications when paying without insurance.

All of this comes roughly six years after Amazon purchased medicine delivery service PillPack, which itself was considered an original disruptor in the telehealth business.

“As more and more people look to complete everyday errands from home, pharmacy is an important and needed addition to the Amazon online store,” said Doug Herrington, senior vice president of North American Consumers at Amazon. “PillPack has provided exceptional pharmacy service for individuals with chronic health conditions for over six years. Now, we’re expanding our pharmacy offering to Amazon.com, which will help more customers save time, save money, simplify their lives, and feel healthier.”

Healthcare transformation beyond the pharmacy

While Amazon may be the largest company making waves in healthcare, they are hardly the first or only innovators in the space.

When in-person visits for relatively healthy patients proved too risky beginning in the spring of 2020, Medicare temporarily waived restrictions on certain telehealth initiatives predating the smartphone era, and patients and providers didn’t hesitate to buy in. Estimates show that spending on virtual visits from federal and commercial payers will have risen from $3 billion in 2019 to more than $250 billion in 2020 thanks to the huge summer surge as folks stayed home. Benefits of these “virtual care” initiatives include:

  • Making healthcare accessible to people in rural or isolated areas.
  • Making services more readily available or convenient for people with limited mobility, time, or transportation options.
  • Providing access to medical specialists.
  • Improving communication and coordination of care among members of a health care team and a patient.
  • Providing support for self-management of healthcare.

There’s also the issue of bringing healthcare to individuals who may not be a fit for virtual treatment, but also don’t require a trip to COVID-strained emergency rooms or doctor’s offices. Companies like VillageMD, for instance, have partnered with retail pharmacy giant Walgreens to bring value-based primary care services to locations in 30 underserved U.S. markets over the coming years, in an aim to make even basic medical services more widely available to consumers.

All of this alludes to a future where the virtual infrastructure underpinning healthcare networks becomes more critical to the success of the industry and the health of customers going forward. Providers, insurers, and pharmacies will all need to better synchronize and secure their resources (including sensitive patient data) going forward to both appeal to consumer tastes and treat Americans going forward.

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Filed Under: industry insights

Tags: network management, network performance monitoring, network performance, healthcare IT, healthcare network, digital transformation, healthcare transformation, virtual pharmacy, telemedicine, telehealth, virtual healthcare, healthcare, Amazon pharmacy, Amazon, pharmacy

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