Amazon Pharmacy: Your Medicine Has Been Dispatched
The pharmaceutical industry is on high alert as the most powerful disruptor in the world starts to heat up their pursuit of another industries precious margins. After tearing up the retail world, the digital services section, books and beyond, here comes the latest: Amazon Pharmacy. Jeff Bezos and his Trojan horse are ready to batter down the door of the trillion-dollar plus pharmacy world.
After news begins to emerge of Amazon’s plans the inevitable questions follow. Is it inherently bad that Amazon is planning, once again, to completely disrupt a once comfortable industry? Is there a catch to potentially cheaper medicine and services? As specialists in online healthcare, we’re here to take you through the potential benefits and some of those very important concerns.
Where has Amazon Pharmacy come from anyway?
Amazon pharmacy is nothing new and if anything, is an inevitable result of the digital revolution. The US federal government began encouraging health care providers to adopt electronic records over ten years ago and from there spouted a huge focus on digital health from the likes of Apple, Google and silicon valley start ups.
We now have a vast range of products targeting our health from Fitbits and bio-monitoring watches to sleep-tracking apps. One particular area that has grown quickly enough to encourage Amazon to make a start on entering the market is AI. As technology such as our skin image searcher begins to advance, the clear opportunity to bring health care completely online has never been more apparent. If there could be a way to eliminate the need to visit a doctor, if this experience could be brought online through AI, Amazon Pharmacy may be able to capitalise.
So, What is Amazon Pharmacy going to do?
We now have a clear understanding that technology is vast and improving within health care. However, at this point, the industry remains the same, the medicine, the services, the wholesalers and the insurance all remains under the same names within the same system despite technology’s best efforts to infiltrate. Healthcare as it is now, is complex. Amazon thrives under these complexities that keep margins high for those at the top. The same way Amazon brought all of our retailers under one roof so that we could buy a sofa whilst ordering a new book, the pharmacy industry is due to receive the same treatment.
Amazon will aim to tie together all of these technological advancements such as skin care AI for patients with health providers, medicines and services. A simple “Hey Alexa” will connect you to a doctor, recommend a service or even recommend products and medicines directly without the need of a professional – AI that is now more accurate than doctors is proof of this model in action.
The patient positives for Amazon Pharmacy?
Positives for us as patients are clear. As it stands, the US pharmaceutical industry has a stranglehold on our health. Due to a complex system of manufacturers, wholesalers, insurance firms, pharmacies and brokers, the patient suffers from high prices as each stage in the funnel aims to take a slice of the pie, driving up prices for patients.
With Amazon, this is all set to change. As alluded to by Forrester Research, healthcare has never been a ‘shoppable’ industry, Amazon will revolutionise this by putting the customer in control with 24-hour delivery, instant access to professionals plus an ability to ‘shop around’ for the best prices.
Currently, Americans are hit with a total yearly bill of over $3.5 trillion for health services – the most expensive in the world. An app-based customer centric system could actually provide better and more personal care than a traditional family doctor scenario. The more this technology is used, the smarter and more accurate it becomes.
So, OK, Amazon Pharmacy sounds good, but how does it actually work?
Lets use our skin image AI as an example. First, you have a problem and in this case it could be some kind of lesion, spot or rash on the skin. The typical approach would require you to book an appointment with your GP, who although only accurate 50% of the time will attempt to diagnose or refer you to a dermatologist – since the number of dermatologists in the world is so small, the waiting times are long unless you can pay the high price.
Amazon would resolve this process by encouraging you to use AI technology such as ours, with 80% accuracy it would provide a result that can then be checked swiftly by a dermatologist online and medicine recommended – this can then be ordered using Amazons rapid delivery service, meaning treatment within hours rather than months.
Are there any negatives to Amazon Pharmacy?
The risks with handing over another industry to Amazon are typical of all industries Amazon has penetrated, only that, this is healthcare and is therefore much more complex than simply ordering a lamp. Healthcare is a need and desperate requirement for some unlike browsing for a new book or television and this comes with its own sinister problems.
There are some ‘minor’ concerns such as the ease of access to healthcare professionals and the chance that some could effectively abuse the system by checking up on every ache and pain. This would mean a system designed to make things quicker could, in effect, be even worse as professionals are bombarded with concerns that wouldn’t require medical attention. With AI moving as quickly as it is, however, this may be capable of negating any risk associated with ‘over-use’.
The true concern is privacy. Can we trust Amazon with such precious data? Targeting me with ads and emails after I have been browsing for new trainers is one thing, but knowing the ins and outs of my health is certainly another.
Imagine a world, where coughing in your house sparks a conversation with Alexa – who would then recommend cough tablets or organising a doctors appointment for you. In principal, this may be something we can get on board with, but who has access to this data? Health is a very private concern and being targeted with ads because you’re coughing within your own home can be seen as invasive at best.
What this would lead to is a serious ethical debate on our privacy, more than anything, because of the US healthcare system. Should insurance companies gain access to this data, premiums could go up, insurance rejected and who knows what else. If we’re buying our food from Amazon, our furniture, our hobbies and now our healthcare, Amazon would have a wealth of data available to sell to insurance companies and almost anyone with a product to sell… Are we comfortable with these companies monitoring our activities in order to charge us premiums as they see fit? Not likely…
In all, there is still some time to go before this world becomes a reality, but in true Amazon fashion, the move is happening fast. Prepare yourself for the new world of digital health as it aims to improve our lives for the better, with faster service, more accurate results and lower prices. We only hope that our privacy can be maintained in the process!
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The Specialist doctor from the University Hospital in Gothenburg, alumnus UC Berkeley. My doctoral dissertation is about Digital Health and I have published 5 scientific articles in teledermatology and artificial intelligence and others.