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  • Amazon has launched a new healthcare service called Amazon Clinic.
  • It involves consulting with a healthcare provider via text to get prescriptions.
  • It is not currently covered by insurance.

Retail giant Amazon is reentering the healthcare market after shuttering a previous offering called Amazon Care, earlier this year.

The new offering is supposed to be more consumer oriented, and called Amazon Clinic.

After the tech giant ended it’s Amazon Care program, company executives explained that this service failed to “take hold” with enterprise customers, reported Fierce Healthcare.

The new service is a message-based, online healthcare service offering treatment for a broad range of health issues, including male hair loss, urinary tract infection (UTI), and acne.

“Amazon Clinic is just one of the ways we’re working to empower people to take control of their health by providing access to convenient, affordable care in partnership with trusted providers,” the company wrote in a blog post.

According to Amazon, you begin by selecting your condition, choose your preferred provider from a list of licensed and qualified telehealth providers, and then complete a short intake questionnaire.

After that, you’ll be able to connect with your clinician at any time for a message-based consultation using a secure, message-based portal.

You’ll then be sent a personalized treatment plan via the portal, including any needed prescriptions sent to your preferred pharmacy – or you can use Amazon Pharmacy.

The service does not yet accept insurance so the consultations will not be covered by insurance.

But if you are given a prescription and it is covered by your insurance, you should be able to use your health coverage to pay for that medication at Amazon Pharmacy or any other pharmacy.

Amazon’s new service is only available in 32 states; however, the company didn’t specify which states in the blog post.

“I understand the first iteration is through text and not full telehealth which requires two-way audiovideo,” Iris Berman, RN, MSN, CCRN, vice president of telehealth services for Northwell Health, told Healthline.

She noted that text provides “very limited information for a limited population” that are overall “fairly healthy” and whose chief complaint appears to be uncomplicated.

“The other issue I see is the inability for a patient to have that visit pulled into their medical records where they may receive more advanced care,” said Berman.

Berman emphasized that a well-designed telehealth encounter should allow audio “at a minimum,” and more often, audiovisual interaction.

“This allows you to asses a patient’s appearance, facial expression, body language, even their home environment and tone of voice,” she explained. “In Amazon’s current state, it has very specific and limited use.”

However, Amazon’s new service does serve an important niche.

“There is no doubt that there is a need they are filling, to easily obtain brief episodic care,” said Berman.

Amazon Clinic targets a particular population but risks “fragmenting care,” cautioned Berman.

She pointed out that health systems are currently working vigorously to offer this type of care in a more comprehensive manner to provide a true “health home.”

“Where care isn’t just episodic but holistic connected care across the continuum, and there is a choice,” noted Berman. “If you value a relationship with your healthcare provider, the Amazon model is not the answer for you.”

“Amazon has stated that its Amazon Clinic platform complies with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA),” said Tara Sklar, Faculty Director, Health Law & Policy Program, Arizona Law, telehealth law and policy faculty advisor for AZ Telemedicine program, a part of the University of Arizona Health Sciences.

“Compliance with HIPAA will protect patients’ identifiable health information from being shared,” she confirmed.

She added that there might be other data collection and tracking systems monitoring how consumers are interacting with the platform that do not violate HIPAA, and may help inform the Amazon business model, particularly future strategic investments in health care.

“If the Amazon Clinic expands in the future, then additional consumer privacy considerations with digital health devices, such as wearables and their related applications, may be an area to watch,” Sklar said.

Skar said data breaches can occur with telemedicine.

“A medical record breach occurs anytime protected health information is accessed without authorization,” explained Sklar.

She explained that should a data breach occur, it could affect a large population of patients and could include sensitive information like medical history, diagnosis, and medications, as well as personal and financial data.

“HIPAA’s penalties vary based on the severity of the issue and how the covered entity failed to protect health information, meaning; did the covered entity take adequate steps to prevent a data breach of medical information and, if a breach did occur, did the entity take proper corrections in a timely fashion?” Sklar said.

According to Sklar, penalties can range from $100 to $50,000 per individual violation, with a maximum penalty of up to $1.5 million.

“Amazon Clinic and other companies looking to work with telehealth vendors across the states will be increasingly looking at state data privacy laws going forward as well as compliance with HIPAA,” she said.

Amazon recently launched Amazon Clinic, a text-message-based telehealth service that offers diagnosis and treatment for many different, non-serious, health issues.

Experts say that, ideally, telehealth should allow audio consultation, that audio-visual interaction is best.

They also say that Amazon will comply with patient privacy laws, like HIPPA, to safeguard private medical information.