Ever since Jeff Bezos started a modest bookselling website under the handle “Amazon,” the company has grown and diversified nonstop. These days, to call Amazon a leader of online retail would be gravely understating its ambitions, especially in light of the site’s recent moves. Amazon’s purchase of a popular grocery chain may have convinced Wall Street that its push to stretch outside e-retail is real; however, Amazon’s research teams have quietly examined expansion opportunities that reach far beyond online commerce for years prior to the Whole Foods merger.
Part of Amazon’s underground research initiative is reportedly directed toward investigating potential opportunities in health care, including electronic health records and telemedicine. Amazon also recently added a few former healthcare executives to its management and business development team, including Mark Lyons, previously of Premera Blue Cross and Missy Krasner, former managing director and VP of Box’s Healthcare and Life Science division.
Considering that a major component of Amazon’s latest off-brand research and employment acquisitions involve healthcare and medical applications, it almost feels natural to imagine a future where Amazon sets its sights on a key engine of the medical world: the pharmaceutical industry.
Few would question Amazon’s ability to sell anything, let alone medication, but it’s even possible that the platform could leverage its current capabilities to aid in developing treatments and conducting clinical trials. For example, if Amazon incorporated blockchain technology (which it is already experimenting with) into its web services, it could create a network of electronic health records safeguarded against hacking and data corruption. Patient privacy would be enhanced, while consenting patients would also be able to easily provide medical data. Amazon’s deep learning tools could then analyze that data to develop patient-specific treatments.
Perhaps one of Amazon’s greatest advantages is its vast user network. Amazon users, especially Prime members, are already accustomed to their on-site preferences being catalogued to provide an improved experience. This same principle of trading data for tangible benefits could be applied in encouraging Prime members to join an Amazon-sponsored patient health program. Through “Amazon Health,” users could store and access test results, medical records, and other health-related info. Nearly half of US households hold an Amazon Prime membership. Even if only a fraction of Prime members enrolled in the program, Amazon would have an ocean of patient health data from which it could identify and quickly pool interested participants for clinical trials.
Amazon may have begun by hawking books online, but it has expanded into a worldwide marketplace capable of selling almost everything, just about everywhere, and conveniently offering a wide range of services. It should come as no surprise if, in the near future, Alexa starts scheduling doctor’s trips and reminding us to take our pills.