Amazon’s New Prime Benefit Is a Wake-Up Call for Traditional Health Systems

The following is a guest article by Sonia Singh, Chief Insights Officer at AVIA Health

Amazon’s latest venture into healthcare, the integration of One Medical into its Prime service, marks a significant shift in the healthcare industry. With over 170 million Prime subscribers, Amazon’s move promises an affordable healthcare option at just $9 per month at a time when the nation faces a shortage in primary care, with demand significantly outweighing supply.

Delivering a scalable, financially viable model that can actually provide the necessary impact on health outcomes would have transformative effects on the industry. However, it remains to be seen whether Amazon can successfully navigate the complexities of healthcare delivery—a challenge that has stymied the company in the past. 

A New Horizon in Healthcare Accessibility

Amazon’s foray into healthcare isn’t entirely new. The tech giant has already made inroads into this sector with Amazon Pharmacy and Prime Rx, existing services that offer medication access and discounts. However, the integration of One Medical with the company’s Prime offering is a game-changer, extending beyond pharmacy services and into the realm of actual medical care, blending on-demand virtual and in-person visits. This model is particularly relevant in today’s healthcare landscape, where patients often endure long waits and rushed, impersonal appointments for even basic check-ups.

For consumers, this integration means more than just convenience; it’s about accessibility and affordability. Burdened by wait times and limited resources, the traditional healthcare system frequently leaves patients with few options other than expensive urgent or emergency care for issues that could be addressed or triaged virtually. Amazon’s model promises 24/7 access to easy, on-demand healthcare, and weds it to a trusted brand experience within an existing and already-popular service. In an era where low-acuity care is ripe for disruption, this is yet another layer of innovation from Amazon.

Challenges Ahead: Amazon’s Proving Ground

Amazon’s ambitious venture isn’t without its challenges. The primary question is whether Amazon can maintain its renowned delivery standards in an industry that’s fraught with complexity, uncertainties, and capacity challenges. Healthcare services are inherently more intricate than retail, demanding a high level of reliability, empathy, and professionalism. Additionally, Amazon’s past forays into healthcare have shown that scalability and financial viability are often the hardest nuts to crack, especially in a sector this nuanced and regulated.

Another critical challenge for Amazon will be delivering an actual impact on health outcomes. While access and convenience are crucial, they must also translate into improved health metrics for the population served: a convenient, engaging service that doesn’t deliver the necessary care is of little value to anyone.

Redefining Healthcare’s Landscape and Expectations

Should Amazon succeed, it will likely redefine the paradigm of primary care, a sector that has already been getting unbundled for several years as consumers have become able to book and buy components of primary care from direct-to-consumer marketplaces. If Amazon’s membership model of healthcare takes off, it will drive an even greater expectation of on-demand and digitally enabled care from both competing services and traditional healthcare providers. 

The impact of such a shift would extend far beyond just offering a new service: it would change the very fabric of primary healthcare and low-acuity care. Patients accustomed to Amazon’s level of service in healthcare would come to expect similar standards across the board, forcing other players in the industry to innovate or collaborate if they are to keep pace.  

Implications for Traditional Health Systems

Amazon’s dramatic move should be a wake-up call for traditional health systems, one that drives them to reassess their primary care strategies, starting by reviewing their wait times for appointment availability. Health systems that choose to remain passive observers in the face of convenient alternatives from digital disruptors like Amazon run the risk of experiencing patient leakage and lost market share, especially in areas of limited access. 

Nor is it difficult to imagine a future where Amazon’s grand experiment succeeds, giving them massive steerage power through the ability to direct consumers to select providers for complex care. In this scenario, Amazon would get to choose and recommend trusted health system partners, just as they have with trusted suppliers of conventional goods, giving them the ability to set the standards for wait times, quality, and experience. 

As a defensive strategy, health systems should work to improve access through digital-first care and by rethinking their primary care strategy. Health systems should also plan for future scenarios that might include strategic positioning for preferred partnerships with companies like Amazon and other navigators—starting with better access for complex care, omnichannel experiences, and digitally enabled consumer engagement and loyalty. 

A Sign of Things to Come

Amazon’s integration of One Medical into its Prime service is more than just another business expansion. It’s a potential transformation of the healthcare landscape, offering a blend of affordability, accessibility, and convenience. While challenges abound, the implications of this move are far-reaching for both consumers and the incumbent healthcare system.

As we watch Amazon’s journey in the healthcare sector continue to unfold, one thing is clear: the combination of innovation and consumer-centric approaches has brought the traditional healthcare model to the cusp of a major overhaul.

About Sonia Singh

As a Chief Insights Officer at AVIA, Sonia leads the digital Insights, research, and thought leadership function at AVIA, ensuring AVIA brings the latest in digital innovation and market research in emerging digital capabilities and solutions. Sonia also works as a strategic advisor to leaders at health systems and digital solution companies to help them navigate technology and strategic decisions.

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