Amazon Prescription Delivery Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

The company announced the acquisition of online pharmacy PillPack

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Amazon is acquiring online pharmacy PillPack, marking its latest move into the healthcare industry and bringing it one step closer to helping 100 million Prime members manage their health.

The release announcing the deal was sparse on details. Amazon declined to comment.

PillPack is a pharmacy that focuses on consumers who take multiple daily prescriptions. According to its website, it sorts medications by dose and delivers them in pre-sorted packaging. It also coordinates refills and renewals.

“PillPack is meaningfully improving its customers’ lives and we want to help them continue making it easy for people to save time, simplify their lives and feel healthier,” said Jeff Wilke, Amazon CEO of worldwide consumer, in a statement.

This is simply the latest move in a long-running will-they-won’t-they saga between Amazon and the healthcare industry.

In March, CNBC reported that Amazon had hired Taha Kass-Hout, a Harvard-trained doctor who was the first chief health informatics officer at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Citing a source with knowledge of the hire, CNBC said Kass-Hout will serve in a business development role focusing on health care projects.

While it is not clear what that means exactly, his LinkedIn profile notes his last position was at hospital network Trinity Health and ended in May 2017—his profile says he is a “physician executive empowering consumers via sustainable health data ecosystems.”

Amazon also reportedly hired Martin Levine, former Seattle market medical director at a group of clinics run by Iora Health. Per LinkedIn, Levine is indeed now a consultant at Amazon. He is a former consultative geriatrician and his work at Iora included supervising clinics serving Medicare patients.

Myriad reports indicate Amazon wants Alexa in particular to play a bigger role in healthcare management.

In May, CNBC reported Amazon was building a health and wellness team within its Alexa division. Citing an internal document, CNBC said the team wants to make Alexa more useful in healthcare and is initially targeting diabetes management and care for mothers, infants and the aging. (Levine’s experience in particular seems like a good fit for the latter.)

Amazon has also worked with pharmaceutical company Merck in a project focused on applying Lex, the deep learning technologies that power Alexa, to consumers with diabetes.

In a release at the time, Merck’s Kimberly Park said the pharmaceutical company was excited to use voice-activated technology to help support better outcomes for those suffering from chronic conditions like diabetes.

Merck also challenged developers to create a diabetes skill for Alexa. Patient engagement platform Wellpepper’s Sugarpod—which includes a diabetes care plan for new patients and an Alexa-enabled device to check for foot problems, which are a common complication of diabetes—was the winner.

But Amazon has also made moves insiders say demonstrate it wants to dispatch doctors to your home. This is a natural extension of keyless access system Amazon Key, which debuted in November. At the time, Amazon said it would eventually include access for providers from Amazon Home Services, which include housekeepers, handymen and yard work professionals.

And, Bloomberg reported, Amazon has started hiring house cleaners in Seattle instead of using independent contractors in order to maintain greater control of the customer experience. If this test works for housekeeping, Bloomberg said it could help Amazon expand into other categories like home improvement or the assembly and installation of electronics.

In a prior interview about in-home delivery, Jason Snyder, global CTO of Momentum Worldwide, noted experiences like those provided by Amazon Home Services require a trade-off in which the utility and quality of the service determine how much permission Amazon gets. And, as relationships build, consumers will give more and more permission, provided the experiences are good.

“Think about the Amazon model,” Snyder said. “If you have a problem [like stolen packages], now you have a lock and a camera and give permission to come into your house. If that’s a good experience, you will let them walk the dog. If that’s a good experience, you will let them clean the house.”

And, if that’s a good experience, is it hard to believe someday Alexa will dispatch doctors to your home?