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What Is Amazon Up To? 

By Kim Bellard, August 27, 2014

Back in April, PwC and HRI issued a report that asked what new entrants might be healthcare's  Now it appears that it might just be Amazon itself.

What we "know" is that unnamed "Amazon leadership" met in late July with Howard Sklamberg, FDA's deputy chief for global regulatory operations and policy, and other unnamed "various FDA leadership."

That's it; everything else is speculation.  Not much of a story perhaps, but, hey, without speculation there would be no point of blogs, and then I'd have to spend my time doing something else.

Still, the speculation is interesting, especially with a company like Amazon that has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to disrupt markets.

They already outsource their cloud services (Amazon Web Services, or AWS), their distribution capabilities, and their payment systems, the latter now being expanded to in-store payments, going up against the likes of Visa and Mastercard.  In a smartphone world dominated by Apple, Samsung and other established manufacturers, they fearlessly have introduced their own version, the Fire.  I could go on in various other spheres, but the point is clear -- they're not afraid of anyone.

So now health care?

Here are three ways that I would love to see if Amazon could add value to health care:

Reviews: OK, all you Amazon shoppers -- and there are a lot of us -- how many of you buy a product (even if not on Amazon) without first checking out the Amazon reviews?

Their reviews already cover various medical supplies/devices sold on Amazon, but wouldn't you love it if those reviews applied to, say, physicians or hospitals?

Recommendations: Amazon is noted for their personalized shopping recommendations, based on user's shopping and purchase history on the site and a lot of Big Data collaborative filtering.  Whether it is a recommended item, the "also viewed" products, or the "frequently bought together" combo suggestions, the recommendations are pretty effective in helping boost Amazon's sales.

Imagine if Amazon applied this to health care products, services, and even providers, recommending ones that they believe might best fit you, and possibly helping map out the various steps of a treatment plan (as they are "frequently bought together").

Medical tourism:  No, I don't mean the out-of-country packages of lower-cost health care services often thought of as medical tourism (although I'm not excluding them).  I mean more broadly making services or packages of something that consumers actively shop for, and breaking the traditional pick-the-closest doctor/hospital mindset that most consumers have gotten used to.

It's fun to speculate what Amazon might do, but the real benefit of them coming into health care in a bigger way would be that they might do something truly unexpected and unique, without health care industry blinders limiting their creativity.

They haven't asked for my advice -- and please feel free to get word to them that they should -- but what I'd urge Amazon

  • Keep it retail: Amazon made its reputation as a retail company, and yet health care has stubbornly resisted being truly retail -- Remember your roots!
  • Make people mad: I hope the AMA, AHA, and the state medical boards are furious, that individual health systems and health care professionals are scared to death, and there generally is a lot of arm-waving and teeth gnashing.

If everyone is applauding, Amazon didn't go far enough.

If all Amazon wants to do in health care is to make it easier for us to buy even more of the things we already buy too much of, and pay too much for, I wouldn't be surprised, but I will be disappointed.  We have plenty of companies who can help us tinker around the edges of the status quo, but all too few companies

This post is an abridged version of the posting in Kim Bellard’s blogsite. Click here to read the full posting

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