Dive Brief:

  • Amazon has shared additional details about where it plans to roll out its virtual-first healthcare program this year, as interest in digitally enabled primary care continues to rise after a year and a half of COVID-19.

  • Amazon Care is currently live in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore region, and will be rolled out in additional cities in 2021, including Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Los Angeles “just to name a few,” Kristen Helton, the director of Amazon Care, said at the annual HLTH conference on Tuesday.

  • Amazon Care was launched as a pilot for Seattle-area employees in 2019, before expanding nationwide (and to outside employers) in early 2021 to great hubbub as the e-commerce giant elbowed deeper into the red-hot, albeit crowded, telehealth market.


Dive Insight:

COVID-19 spurred unprecedented demand in virtual care at a time when employers and payers were already seeking mechanisms to lower healthcare costs for their employee bases, without sacrificing outcomes.

Comprehensive health benefits have also become an increasingly important way to attract and retain talent as Americans quit their jobs in droves. In August alone, a record 4.3 million people in the U.S. resigned, seeking job security, better pay and more attractive benefits elsewhere in a societal shift market watchers are calling the Great Resignation.

“Employers want to retain their talent. They’re very invested in that health and safety,” Helton said. “We want to make sure that the services we provide are improving health while also lowering costs.”

Amazon Care has two main elements: urgent and primary care telehealth with a nurse or doctor via an app, and in-person care, along with prescription delivery, to the home. Seattle-based Amazon says the service runs the gamut from preventative care like annual vaccinations, to on-demand urgent care including COVID-19 testing, to services like family planning.

In March, with the news of the nationwide expansion beyond Seattle, Amazon said it planned to first roll out the joint virtual and in-person service near its second headquarters in the Washington, D.C. region, an area that is now confirmed live.

The decision to make Amazon Care available to outside companies put the retailer in direct competition with telehealth giants like Teladoc, Amwell and Included Health, which bring in a sizable chuck of revenue through deals with employer and payer clients. Shares in publicly traded virtual care vendors dove following the news.

But despite Amazon’s heft, logistics infrastructure, technological know-how and consumer reach, experts say the effort is a more direct threat to employer-facing point solutions, instead of the more comprehensive offerings peddled by entrenched vendors.

At its core, Amazon’s virtual offering isn’t that differentiated from those that already penetrate the market, analysts say.

Amazon touts how its offering links telehealth with in-home care, which it says is a key competitive advantage — along with its brand and focus on consumer experience.

However, Amazon Care  — which is essentially a virtual-first primary care option, treating patients through groups of providers matched with each patient based on their needs — is now one of a few virtual-first primary care options in the field.

Offerings combining a virtual and physical element have become increasingly commonplace as the industry shifts toward a more hybrid model of care after more than a year of the coronavirus.

Proponents of digitally enabled primary care cite how technology can be leveraged to expand primary care access, hopefully preventing downstream health complications and costs through prevention and screening.

On Tuesday, diversified healthcare behemoth UnitedHealth said it planned to roll out a virtual-first primary care product by 2021’s end combining its Optum physician network with payer arm UnitedHealthcare’s network offerings. Earlier this month, Teladoc made its virtual primary care pilot broadly available to commercial health plans, employers and other benefit sponsors nationwide.