Amazon Clinic Chief Sees Intersection of Retail and Healthcare

healthcare technology

The future of healthcare will look a lot more like retail with customer experience coming first and artificial intelligence (AI) playing a larger role in that transformation.

These were among the takeaways from a series of discussions during the CNBC Healthy Returns 2023 Summit last week, as leaders from healthcare, Big Tech and the investment world discussed how the consumerization of healthcare and applications of AI will transform healthcare as we know it, in some cases on a time horizon of as little as three years.

Amazon Clinic Chief Medical Officer and General Manager Dr. Nworah Ayogu said during his segment that one reason many people are not receiving needed care is access, which Amazon is addressing with acquisitions like One Medical and its expanding network of retail clinics.

“I would think of Amazon Clinic as a marketplace, similar to what Amazon does well on its retail site, connecting buyers and sellers to the products they need,” Ayogu said. “I think we’re doing the same thing with Amazon Clinic. I would think of it more as a marketplace where you can find providers and provider groups for your issue.”

Giving a glimpse into Amazon’s vision for its growing health business, Ayogu spoke of how the eCommerce giant’s healthcare aspirations fit into its existing business framework.

“We know that care and medication are two important pillars, but there’s more. There’s food, there’s nutrition, there are other kinds of products like DME [durable medical equipment], canes, walkers, and there are other things outside of care and medication that make a difference. We think Amazon has unique assets to bring to bear to connect patients to those other things.”

In terms of customer experience, Ayogu described the connected nature of how Amazon is building out its offering, noting, “You go on, it’s on your mobile app already. It’s in places where you already are, so you don’t have to download anything new.”

He added that the way it works now, “You choose a condition that you have. You can choose the telehealth provider, you can choose the provider group, so it’s injecting choice into the experience so you can choose all the factors that matter to you. Then you can message back and forth to the doctor to rapidly get the care that you need. With Amazon Clinic, it’s about fitting that specific need and addressing that need for that customer.”

As for the One Medical acquisition and its role in this growing ecosystem, Agoyu said he believes the membership-based primary care provider is at the start of a larger utility.

“I think One Medical already can lean forward and be able to really engage with our customers and deliver a holistic experience. It’s something that they already do. We have a saying at Amazon, it’s always day one. But with One Medical, it really is day one. The deal has just closed. There’s a lot we can do together, and we’ll get feedback from customers to help us understand how we continue to take the great experience they’ve already built and make it even better.”

AI’s Healthcare Impact Begins

AI was also a prime topic at the annual virtual summit. During a panel featuring Andreessen Horowitz General Partner Dr. Vineeta Agarwala, Breyer Capital founder and CEO Jim Breyer and Relay Therapeutics President and CEO Dr. Sanjiv Patel, the trio discussed the optimism and skepticism around AI use cases in healthcare, and how innovators view it.

“I’m in the category of optimists,” Agarwala said. “You saw Microsoft already announced that there’s going to be some integration of that technology with our dictation software for doctors. There could be immediate workflow implications [for] some of the administrative tasks in healthcare, which unfortunately do contribute to significant physician burnout and misallocation of physician time,” which has profound implications for the health ecosystem.

She added that AI advances can have a significant impact “in the workflow of seeing patients, creating documentation, interfacing with our payer ecosystem, [and] ways for GPT4 and other large language models to contribute to a reduction in burnout.”

As for broader implications for Big Tech bringing AI into the healthcare space, Breyer said, “My personal view over the last 12 months is that our mega-cap companies … are not just doubling or tripling down on healthcare and medicine. It’s 10x 50x over the next couple of years.”

Breyer said he’s encouraged to see “alumni of Alphabet, Amazon, Meta, others, Microsoft, of course, that want to go into this field. Rarely have I seen the 28- to 32-year-old 10-year alums of these mega-cap companies, from a technology standpoint, decide this is how they want to spend the rest of their careers working at this intersection of computation and science.”

Patel brought the conversation down to earth, saying “There’s a lot of hype around AI and machine learning. There continues to be lots of press releases, people saying you can push a button in the metaverse, and you’ll get a life-changing medicine. I just don’t think we’re there. We are looking at incremental change over time. I’m an optimist like Vineeta, but I’m also a realist. I’m at the coalface every day, and there are some significant challenges to overcome.”