Can Amazon and big tech make American healthcare less painful?

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The American healthcare system is broken. Can big tech fix it? That’s what many of us hope to find out with Amazon’s ongoing acquisition of boutique primary care practice One Medical.

There is no doubt among most people you speak with today – something has to give when it comes to medical care in America. An estimated 100 million of us feel like we’re paying too much for too little when it comes to our health.

For example, my monthly health insurance bill is $825 (I’m self-employed), but I just took my first exam in three years. That math works out to nearly $30,000 for that ten-minute date.

Insurance exists for the “just in case” scenario, but there was $88 billion in medical debt on Americans’ credit reports in June 2021, according to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. How many of us are misdiagnosing ourselves or crashing into bankruptcy?

What is a medical? Why is it worth nearly $4 billion to Amazon?

One Medical is a membership-based primary care practice with nearly 200 locations across the United States. It also offers virtual services. The company said it had around 767,000 patient members as of May.

I was one of those patients when One Medical opened its first clinic in downtown San Francisco in 2007. I had excellent health insurance through my employer at the time, and it covered visits to One Medical’s modern and chic offices, minus the annual membership fee of $199. This annual fee paid for care is well worth ten times this amount.

I could always get an appointment within a day or two, and the doctors spent as much time with me as I needed. Just walking through the front door felt like stepping into a new era of healthcare. Remember the “Grey’s Anatomy” spin-off “Private Practice” and its one-stop doctor’s office? It was kind of like that, minus the drama. It was everything I needed from a doctor’s office and more.

Sound a bit familiar – some sort of Amazon Prime for healthcare? It was.

“We believe healthcare is high on the list of experiences that need to be reinvented,” Neil Lindsay, senior vice president of Amazon Health Services, said in a press release announcing the One Medical deal. “We love to invent to make what should be easy easier, and we want to be one of the companies that will help dramatically improve the healthcare experience over the next few years,” he added.

Can great tech fix something so broken?

Unlike when I was a patient of One Medical, my current provider often looks like the mafia, charging exorbitant prices and making me wait months for appointments in remote locations, for that appointment be canceled on the day I’m supposed to see them.

The United States spends $4 trillion on health care – more than any other country. Yet our results are among the bleakest in several categories, including life expectancy, obesity, and chronic disease. Is this an industry that big tech can revive in a way that is sustainable and beneficial to all of us?

Here’s a look at some of the biggest pros and cons of the potential “Amazonization” of primary care.

Advantages: Speed ​​and savings

The rapidity: Big tech — and Amazon in particular — values ​​speed and efficiency, which our doctor’s trip could use more of.

“Making an appointment, waiting weeks or even months to be seen, missing work, going to a clinic, finding a parking space, waiting in the waiting room and then the exam room for what too often is a few rushed minutes with a doctor and then taking another trip to a pharmacy – we see many opportunities to both improve the quality of the experience and give people back valuable time in their days” , said Lindsay of Amazon.

Convenience: Even if you don’t use any Amazon products, it’s hard to deny the company’s innovative technology in many areas, including media streaming, voice recognition, and artificial intelligence.

“With Amazon being a tech-savvy company, there is an opportunity to offer more technology solutions to provide care to a larger group of people,” Ling Wong, senior adviser at Lightspeed Venture Partners, said per e. -mail.

Using such enormous technological power to improve our health care could be a major step forward from what many of us face today.

“Care navigation should be patient-centric and clickable,” Steve Cashman, president and CEO of Caption Health, told me via email. “Imagine an experience devoid of duplicate forms, phone calls, numerous installations, dirty waiting rooms, and waiting 30 days for multiple bills from entities you’ve never heard of.”

Cost: Even with insurance, clinic visits can be expensive. And if you don’t have insurance, you could be hit with medical bills that take a lifetime to pay off.

Amazon might be able to change that, as it already owns online pharmacy PillPack, which it acquired in 2018 and launched a telehealth service a year later. In other words, this isn’t their first rodeo.

“Amazon is already helping its employees speak out about healthcare by applying technology and access to care expectations to a wide range of healthcare services,” Cashman says. “Big companies have significant leverage and buying power for their millions of employees, and building a better system means everyone has the opportunity to benefit from incentives aligned with cost and performance. quality of care.”

With more than 1.6 million employees worldwide, Amazon’s workforce is more than double the current workforce of One Medical. Does Amazon have the power to cut costs across the board? If it does and passes those savings on to patients, it could be a big win for people between jobs or unable to afford health insurance.

Cons: More loss of privacy and potential for data monopoly

Privacy: I know several people who still don’t use an Alexa-connected device at home for fear of Amazon eavesdropping. Do we want to allow the same company that suggests what we buy, listen to and watch on TV access to our most sensitive medical data? Privacy and tech watchdog groups say, “Oh no.”

Amazon, along with several other consumer tech companies, has a habit of asking forgiveness later versus permission now, especially when it comes to our privacy. Examples include sharing Ring doorbell images with law enforcement without a warrant, eavesdropping on private conversations, and even using our personal internet connections without permission.

Privacy: Could your data be used to determine if you wish to have an abortion?

One Medical receives information on the health of children, families, the elderly and vulnerable people. This includes information about drug addiction, mental health issues, and other intimate conditions. We can’t be sure Amazon will handle this new data any better than it has handled its existing trove of data.

And privacy advocates aren’t sure HIPAA laws are enough to stop potential abuse.

“HIPAA only protects individuals’ information as it passes from the patient to the healthcare provider, covered entities, and business associates who have a direct role in patient care,” said Debbie Reynolds, a global expert in regarding privacy and data protection, in an e-mail. “

More concerning, she added, “other information about an individual’s location, perhaps health-related purchases, data about someone tracking their movements like accelerometers in phones portable, is data that has either weak consumer protection or no data privacy protection.With enough tangential data points, it is easy to infer things about individuals that they would expect ‘they remain private.

This last part is particularly alarming, especially when battles are brewing over women who cross state lines to access abortion care and have their data – such as that found in period trackers – used to extrapolate that they intend to do so.

Period tracking apps: How much information can companies or other parties access?

Are interstate travel bans next? Possible fallout as more company health insurance plans cover abortion travel

Data monopolies: Several people have also raised concerns about anti-trust issues and the idea that we are heading towards a future where two or three companies control every aspect of our lives. It’s already possible to buy just about everything you need for everyday life on Amazon – from a smartphone to groceries and even prescription drugs – but do you want your doctor on the list too? Payroll from Jeff Bezos?

“With this merger, Amazon is creating a first-party data relationship with consumers, many of whom already provide data to Amazon about what they buy on Amazon online, what content they watch on Prime Video, what food they eat “they buy from Whole Foods, and now what is their primary healthcare use with One Medical. All of these data points together create a kind of ‘data monopoly’ for Amazon,” Reynolds added.

Critics of the deal say Amazon’s cross-industry spins need more regulation and oversight, especially when it comes to health care.

As Stacy Mitchell, co-executive director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told the Washington Post: “This is another opportunity to bring together a huge cache of personal data to use that data and those relationships to further cementing Amazon’s dominance as an online middleman for many goods and services.

Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer technology columnist. Email him at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @JenniferJolly. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Amazon and One Medical: Can Big Tech Make Healthcare Less Painful?

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