Thursday, August 03, 2017 by Tracey Watson
When thinking about the online giant Amazon, a quote from the old animated television series Pinky and the Brain comes to mind. Pinky asks Brain, “Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?” to which Brain replies, “The same thing we do every night Pinky – try to take over the world!” From eBooks to streaming television, groceries to cloud products, Amazon certainly appears set on taking over the world, one market sector at a time. Their latest target seems to be all things healthcare related, including everything from pharmaceutical sales to virtual medical records. They’ve even set up a secret skunkworks lab called 1492 to explore all the opportunities offered by this lucrative sector.
CNBC is reporting that Amazon’s choice of “1492” is a reference to the year Columbus discovered the new world. Well, the healthcare sector is certainly a whole new world of opportunity for Amazon.
The lab, which is based in Seattle, will be investigating opportunities in electronic medical record data, health apps for its existing Amazon Echo and Dash Wand products, and telemedicine – which would enable people to have virtual consultations with their healthcare providers. (Related: Keep up with the latest developments in healthcare at Medicine.news.)
The government is very interested in digitizing healthcare information, in spite of public backlash against the possible privacy issues and insurance cover prejudice that such virtual medical records would unleash.
Former White House chief technology officer, Aneesh Chopra, who was actively involved in efforts to digitize medical records, told CNBC, “Anyone who aspires to help consumers navigate our health system and is digitally capable should find the market conditions ripe for entry.”
And Amazon is aspiring to do just that – big time.
They’re not doing this openly, though. CNBC notes that in late July, Amazon placed several job postings for positions within its 1492 “stealth” team. Until the time that CNBC first posted its article on 26 July, these postings could easily be located by searching “a1.492” or “The Amazon Grand Challenge a.k.a. ‘Special Projects’ team.” There were also several job listings for Amazon’s “new vertical” – clearly a reference to the 1492 team. Interestingly, by 27 July, after the article was published, these listings had all disappeared. Furthermore, Amazon ignored all requests for comment by CNBC.
Clearly, whatever they’re up to in that lab, they don’t want anyone knowing about it.
At the same time, Amazon is actively pursuing its own share of the lucrative pharmaceutical business – a market sector that generated $967 billion in the U.S. in 2016. The company has been exploring this possibility since the 1990s, with its failed purchase of the online store Drugstore.com. Undeterred by that failure, Amazon has hired a new general manager to establish a team and develop a strategy for leaping into the online prescription drug market.
If they can succeed, this will likely prove to be very lucrative for the company. As we reported back in May:
Stephen Buck, co-founder of GoodRx, a company that aims to reduce prescription prices for its clients, estimates that the lucrative pharmaceutical sector could add as much as $25 to $50 billion in sales for Amazon.
Amazon has already rolled out a same-day delivery system for pharmaceuticals in Japan. If the U.S. model follows the same system, patients (including drug addicts) will be able to access online pharmaceuticals by completing a form explaining their symptoms and medical histories, after which a pharmacist will dispense the requested drugs. This hardly seems like a full proof system, and errors are bound to be made.
Fortunately for those concerned about the implementation of a system so fraught with risk, the company will have to overcome several hurdles as it enters the healthcare sphere:
“Prescription transfer laws and e-prescribing make it a little more difficult than putting something in a cart and checking out,” Buck noted.
Let’s hope that overcoming these hurdles at least slows down Amazon’s attempts to take over the world.