Amazon to expand virtual health program nationwide

Amazon to expand virtual health program nationwide
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Amazon on Wednesday announced plans to dive into the health care industry by expanding its telemedicine program into a service available to other employers nationwide. 

The program, called Amazon Care, began as a pilot project two years ago to provide urgent care visits to Amazon employees in Washington state. 

Now, Amazon said it will begin expanding the telemedicine app to interested Washington state employers, and to all Amazon workers and other private employers nationally by this summer.  

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According to a blog post announcing the expansion, the app connects people virtually with doctors, nurses and other medical professionals for over-the-phone treatment 24 hours a day, with an average wait time of less than 60 seconds.

Amazon said the app offers care though either messaging or video, and offers both urgent and primary care services, including COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, preventative care and prescription requests. 

In the Seattle area, Amazon employees with the app also have access to in-person services such as pharmacy delivery and visits from nurses to take blood work, offer vaccinations and other in-person services, according to The Associated Press

Amazon said Wednesday that the in-person services offered through the app will at first only be expanded to users in the Washington, D.C., metro area, where Amazon is building its second headquarters. 

Amazon Care Director Kristen Helton told the AP that expanding the telemedicine service to other employers across the country “is a big step.”

"It’s an opportunity for other forward-thinking employers to offer a service that helps bring high-quality care, convenience and peace of mind,” she added.

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Helton told CNBC that while the pilot program initially started as an urgent care service, it has grown into a potential alternative to in-person primary care providers.

“We have developed the ability to treat chronic conditions … you can see the same provider, have a care team, so that that group of clinicians really gets to know you and I would say, we’re also learning on the clinical side, we really need to give clinicians the tools to provide excellent care,” she explained. 

Amazon’s plans to expand its health care offerings come as more people have relied on telemedicine amid the coronavirus pandemic as lockdown orders and other safety measures forced people to stay at home.

In November, Amazon unveiled its own online pharmacy allowing customers to have prescriptions and refills delivered directly to their homes, with options to compare prices between multiple drug companies and make purchases using insurance co-pays or without insurance.

While demand for Amazon services has increased during the pandemic, the outbreak has also affected the company's employees. 

More than 19,000 of its approximately 1.3 million Amazon and Whole Foods Market front-line workers tested positive for COVID-19. Amazon in October said that the rate of infection among employees was 42 percent lower than expected, compared to the “general population rate” in the U.S.