Money attracts more money. It’s no secret. It should come as no surprise then that the $4.1 trillion (yes, trillion) American healthcare industry is now in the crosshairs of the world’s largest and most profitable companies, each of whose stock is worth north of $1 trillion. Apple has its Apple Watch. Google has its Fitbit. And Amazon, besides aiming at healthcare retail, has Amazon Care, the clearest direct threat to smaller physician practices we’ve seen from this big-tech cohort.
During the summer of 2021, Amazon launched its nationwide telehealth platform for primary care services through an arrangement with Care Medical, itself a physician practice that will serve as Amazon’s own care team. Initial reports were uncertain as to whether Amazon planned to market this service for profit, or simply as an option for its ever-growing workforce of nearly 800,000 now.
Whenever a trillion-dollar behemoth moves into your territory, you must take notice and plan to react.
Amazon has a multi-pronged approach to healthcare with Amazon Care, focused on telehealth and home-based care. Amazon care not only enables employers to provide access to high-quality medical care within 60 seconds, without wait times, 24/7, 365 days a year, but it also aims to promote home-based care, utilizing technology to increase patient monitoring models for chronic and post-acute care management and on-demand medical professionals coming right to patients’ doors.
Amazon Care is being sold to employers as a supplementary workplace benefit, attached to existing health plans. Amazon is not an insurer (yet). But it aims to provide early and preventive medical care through on-demand virtual visits (in-person in some regions) and chat features to enrolled employees. This continues the trend of urgent care and telehealth amid major attempts to reduce hospital visits and admissions, thus effectively saving the entire medical system from further burdening already-stressed hospital capacity and wasting dollars. For employers facing constant increased premiums from their insurers, Amazon’s hope is to decrease costlier medical visits and eventually pass on savings to plans and employers. For those companies enrolled in high-deductible plans, Amazon’s cheaper model may result in less out-of-pocket payments. As more and more employees go remote, employers seeking to keep their employees healthy may find that Amazon Cares offers an attractive combination of speed, convenience, and personalization.
What’s more troubling for existing traditional physicians is Amazon leveraging its vast resources to outcompete them on quality and speed of care. On-demand medical attention at literally any time on any day will be difficult for any private practice to compete with. Amazon has the cash to play loss-leader in this market while it learns how to further disrupt it. Remember this is a company that started by selling books online and now is the country’s second-largest retailer, behind only Walmart. It certainly had bumps in the road to contend with, but it found its way. It might in healthcare as well.
Of course, Amazon isn’t alone in its endeavors to upend the traditionally-static healthcare industry. It’s seemingly another actor in the play, as services get delivered closer to home and with less delay. The days of sitting in waiting rooms for hours are numbered.
What’s a small provider to do? The overarching trend in the industry is clearly towards consolidation, which allows for leveraging pooled resources to combat the mega companies’ forays. Short of that though, embrace change, and learn from the competition. Everything is becoming digitized. Your practice needs to continue to evolve and ensure that it’s leveraging whatever technology it can to enhance patient experiences. Off-the-shelf software packages and cloud-based applications can plug into your electronic health records and provide unique and exciting features that your patients may respond well to. Up-to-date patient portals, virtual availability and visits, and extended hours are all ways to stay connected and increase patient engagement and loyalty. Affiliating with other groups to fill in gaps in service delivery helps as well. Relationships will always be important; obviously those with your patients are paramount, but with other providers as well. Partnering with urgent care facilities to tap into their extended hours may provide an avenue to keep patients that may have urgent needs. Leverage the technology that patients may be using in their daily lives as well. If they’re staring at their Apple Watches all day long, monitoring their steps, heart rates, EKG’s, etc., then develop care plans and describe to them what they should be aware of when self-monitoring. Encourage routine virtual check-ins to review their data and interpret it for them. Too many people self-diagnose or use Google searches to play doctor. Tap into your experience and knowledge base to keep your patients educated and informed, but still connected to and reliant on you. You need to differentiate yourself by staying close to your patients. The world is moving to healthcare built around patients, their life, and their schedules … you need to move with it. Lacking that differentiation, your patients will become low-hanging fruit for larger practices and the Amazons of the world.
Matthew Burke, CPA, CFE
Matt specializes in providing Cerini and Associates’ diverse array of midsized business clientele and nonprofit organizations with valuable consulting and assurance services. He prides himself on value-added, responsive, and innovative service to his clients; with a focus on forward-thinking and creative solutions. Matt joined the firm in 2002 and has years of experience with many types of complex accounting, auditing, compliance, and general business matters that impact entrepreneurial, established, and nonprofit businesses.