A woman with a sick child speaks to a doctor via telehealthShare on Pinterest
Experts say telehealth services have made life easier for working parents. Jimena Roquero/Stocksy United
  • Amazon has announced it has expanded its telehealth services nationwide.
  • The program, called Amazon Care, can connect customers via video chat with a healthcare professional.
  • If more care is needed, a nurse can be dispatched in some locations to a person’s home.
  • Experts say Amazon Care could disrupt the healthcare industry, although it’s too early to tell how big that impact will be.

In 2017, Amazon ventured into the grocery business by buying Whole Foods.

The next year, Amazon purchased the online pharmacy PillPack.

If you’re asking yourself what’s next for the e-commerce giant, the answer is telehealth.

Amazon recently announced Amazon Care, its virtual health service, will now be available nationwide.

The company also said Amazon Care’s accompanying in-person services are being rolled out in 20 additional cities this year, including major metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, and New York City.

Company officials say Amazon Care can quickly connect its customers with a healthcare professional via video chat from the comfort of their own homes.

If the video visit can’t resolve the problem or you need further evaluation, the company will dispatch a nurse to your home.

For now, however, that nurse visit is only available in eight cities that offer in-home care. They are Seattle, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Austin, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Arlington.

To use the service, your employer has to have signed up for it.

Amazon says it provides the service to its Whole Foods workers.

The company began a pilot telehealth service for its own employees and their families in Seattle in 2019.

The company says it also has some new customers, including Silicon Labs and TrueBlue.

“We love anything that increases a patient’s access to healthcare providers,” said Caitlin Donovan, a healthcare policy expert and spokesperson for the National Patient Advocate Foundation.

“Telehealth is a great resource for patients and not just because of viruses… but also for people who have low mobility, transportation issues, and working parents,” Donovan told Healthline.

“There’s a whole slew of people for whom telehealth is a great option… and I like anything that expands that,” she said.

Amazon is coming into a telehealth space that is already rapidly growing and already has multiple players spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One research firm estimates the rate of growth to have stabilized at 38 times the pre-pandemic level. It also projected that up to $250 billion of healthcare spend could potentially be shifted to virtual care.

However, Donovan said Amazon’s in-home visits along with the telehealth session is something that could set its service apart from the others. The in-home care might be something other healthcare companies consider offering.

“It’s like we’re coming full circle in the best possible way,” she said. “If you can combine those two things… what you might actually have is the ability to reach a lot of people who were being left out.”

Could Amazon’s telehealth services force major changes in the healthcare industry?

Experts aren’t sure yet.

“I don’t think in the short term it’s going to do much. It’s going to have a very incremental impact. But in the longer term, there is some potential,” said Kirthi Kalyanam, executive director of the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University in California.

He has studied and written extensively about the “Amazon effect.”

Kalyanam said first Amazon would have to get a lot more employers to sign up for the service for their workers.

“It’s not like a retail service where they can stick it on the shelf and offer it to their Prime members,” he told Healthline.

But Kalyanam said the company has deep pockets, is patient, and can invest for the long term.

“The Amazon playbook is they are going after the easy part of the healthcare system… and using technology to solve the problem,” he said.

“You get instant access to a doctor via your phone or mobile device. And if necessary they will send a nurse to your house. That’s the friction they’re solving and it’s a very important thing. So far the healthcare system has failed to solve that problem for us,” he explained.

“I think it could make some of the existing healthcare companies really nervous,” Kalyanam added.

Amazon’s announcement of its telehealth expansion may have made some investors nervous. Shares of Teladoc, a virtual doctor visit company, fell 6 percent the same day.