Amazon on Wednesday unveiled plans to launch a health care service to employers across the United States, including telemedicine and home care visits, opening up a new market for the tech giant that has increasingly woven its way into the lives of consumers.
The initiative will make Amazon Care, which so far had been offered to a limited number of the company's own employees, available to "millions" of people through their jobs, it announced in a blog post.
"By supplying Amazon Care as a workplace benefit, employers are investing in the health and wellbeing of arguably their most important asset: their employees," the company said.
The new initiative will offer "a range of urgent and primary care services" but will not replace comprehensive medical insurance.
Amazon Care, which has been tested since 2018 with some company employees in Washington state, includes a mobile app that will allow people to connect with medical professionals by video or chat "typically in less than 60 seconds."
A second element of the service available in some areas will involve in-person care, in which Amazon will send a medical professional to a patient's home for certain services such as blood draws or limited exams.
"Beginning this summer, Amazon Care will expand its virtual care to companies and Amazon employees in all 50 states across the US," the statement said.
Amazon Care's in-person service will expand to the US capital, Baltimore and other locations in the coming months.
The new service will be available to "companies of all sizes" and will offer services including Covid-19 and flu testing, vaccinations, treatment of illnesses and injuries, preventive care, sexual health and prescription requests.
- Expanding reach -
It comes following a period of spectacular growth for Amazon across several sectors -- and increased scrutiny of the company from antitrust enforcers in the United States and elsewhere.
Amazon said it decided to expand the health care program based on feedback from its employees and increased interest in telemedicine, which exploded during the coronavirus pandemic, as people shied away from medical offices.
A recent McKinsey study showed 46 percent of Americans used telemedicine in 2020, up from 11 percent the prior year.
McKinsey sees the trend continuing, predicting that "up to $250 billion of current US health care spend could potentially be virtualized."
The new venture adds yet another market for Amazon, which has expanded from its origins in e-commerce to streaming media, cloud computing, robotics, artificial intelligence and groceries.
In the health field, Amazon last year launched an online pharmacy for US consumers, who will be able to order prescription medications directly from its website or mobile app.
That came two years after Amazon acquired PillPack, an internet pharmacy offering pre-sorted dose packaging and home delivery.
A separate venture launched three years ago by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan aimed at providing broader health services to US firms was disbanded earlier this year.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, among executives called to testify at a congressional antitrust hearing on the growing dominance of Big Tech firms, has denied that the company stifles competition.
But along with its Big Tech peers, Amazon has seen its fortunes rise during the pandemic as more consumers turn to online goods and services.
In 2020, Amazon's full-year profit more than doubled to $21.2 billion while revenues jumped 38 percent to $386 billion.
Bezos has said he will step down as chief executive at Amazon later this year, taking the role of executive chair of the company he founded.