Seattle, WA — Beginning with its acquisition of PillPack, Amazon’s grand entrance into healthcare continues with its partnership with J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway, through which the gargantuan trifecta plans to revolutionize healthcare delivery. Consumers and pundits alike remain curious: how is Amazon going to do it, and what will healthcare look like?

While plans remain private, Amazon’s history of disruption is probably telling. The retail behemoth’s extensive supply chains are likely its most obvious asset to leverage. Skeptics maintain that, notwithstanding this infrastructure, pharmaceuticals are somehow different from other goods, calling for a different kind of expertise. But the company once known as a “bookseller” successfully moved into approximately every other product realm. So, there’s good reason to think that Dr. Atul Gawande, CEO of Amazon’s healthcare venture, will meet with success.

And as the company threatens industry-shaking disruption, another feather already in their cap is how they’ve eliminated middlemen in the past. Between pharmacies, payers, HCPs, and other professionals, the patient journey in America is currently characterized by a noteworthy number of mediators at every step. While high drug prices—one of the biggest hot-button issues—are still challenging to explain, a model for condensed supply chains under Amazon may represent an important step in a new direction. 

And then, of course, there’s the sheer size of Amazon’s buying power. Even the outsized gatekeepers of the contemporary healthcare landscape may be unable to compete with Amazon’s money, resources, and promise. 

But according to Dr. Josh Luke at the University of Southern California, Amazon’s true greatest asset may be smaller and more tangible than any of these things: he’s referring to Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant currently dominating the smart-home market. Already, the Canadian healthcare tech group Reformulary has introduced an Alexa voice skill, DrugFinder, equipped with vast knowledge of pharmaceutical pricing, insurance coverage, and drug options. Canadian users can simply talk to Alexa in order to compare their options and make decisions. One can expect Amazon to roll out augmented healthcare services through Alexa.

Why This Matters

Alexa’s promise of healthcare offerings suggests future shifts even bigger than the potential centrality of Amazon in this space. First, it shows the burgeoning importance of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and voice technology across all realms. Successful healthcare brands will adopt these technologies and develop realistic, practical new voices to leverage them to maximum effect. 

In addition, Alexa can offer a new means and ease of patient self-management. For example, by dispensing appropriate, disease state–specific guidance, Alexa can save many unnecessary and costly trips to the doctor. On top of that, Alexa can tackle one of the biggest problems in contemporary healthcare—failure to complete prescribed courses of treatment—by tracking and promoting medication adherence. This is a realm in which apps and AI have already proved most effective, and Alexa can take it mainstream.

About the Author:

Ben helps spark innovative healthcare thinking as Associate Director of Innovation. Previously on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair, he brings experience in engaging, rigorous storytelling to the healthcare world. Ben’s goals are to move brands to rethink their roles, own their evolving narratives, and maintain vital and vigorous consumer relationships.