Amazon plans to buy the primary care organization One Medical in a nearly $4 billion deal, adding to the growing list of the tech giant's acquisitions and attempts to expand its reach in the health care industry.
"We think health care is high on the list of experiences that need reinvention," Neil Lindsay, senior vice president of Amazon Health Services, said in a statement last week.
One Medical is a membership-based primary care practice with nearly 200 locations across the country that also offers virtual services. The company had roughly 767,000 member patients as of May.
"There is an immense opportunity to make the health care experience more accessible, affordable, and even enjoyable for patients, providers, and payers," Amir Dan Rubin, One Medical's CEO, said in a statement.
The deal, which regulators and One Medical's shareholders still need to approve, marks Amazon's biggest health care acquisition yet. But Amazon's ambitions in health care go back several years.
Amazon already has a foothold in health care. One Medical gives it a greater physical presence
Amazon's acquisition of One Medical has some similarities to its purchase of Whole Foods in 2017.
"Over the last few years, Amazon has been similarly trying to get into health care largely with digital interactions," Dr. Aaron Neinstein, a digital health expert who leads electronic health records implementation at the University of California, San Francisco, told NPR.
"I think this indicates their similar desire as Whole Foods to have a physical place where they can have a health care interaction with their patients or customers that's available in most major American cities," Neinstein said.
This is only the latest of the company's health care ventures.
Amazon acquired the online pharmacy company PillPack for $753 million in 2018 and launched Amazon Pharmacy in 2020 as a prescription and delivery service.
The company partnered with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to form Haven — a nonprofit health care organization designed to lower costs for the companies' employees and improve the primary care experience. But Haven dissolved in 2021 after operating for only three years.
The company isn't new to telehealth either. Amazon Care, a 24-7 texting and video service app for people to connect with clinicians, began in 2019 with Amazon employees. It formed into a nationwide program earlier this year.
The company also owns Amazon Web Services, a massive cloud storage service that stores health data for many hospitals and health systems. The service has its own natural language processing system that's been pre-trained "to understand and extract health data from medical text, such as prescriptions, procedures, or diagnoses," according to its website. (Amazon Web Services is among NPR's funders.)
Add fitness trackers, Alexa voice assistants and a plethora of health and wellness products available for purchase and delivery — Amazon has already taken a deep dive into this world.
The next step could be integration of the various ventures
Amazon's acquisition of One Medical, in addition to its other ventures in health care, raises questions about whether the tech giant could eventually offer a streamline of these services all on one platform.
"The question is, as you sort of put all of these pieces together, could they create a much more convenient, holistic health care experience for people?" Neinstein said. "What Amazon has become known for is they really understand as a consumer what you want and how to get it to you really easily."
Dr. Matthew Sakumoto, a clinician and digital health expert based in San Francisco, said there's potential, but it will be difficult to integrate across Amazon's wide swath of health care services.
"I think it's going to be tough. I think even currently these pieces exist in silos kind of within Amazon's ecosystem, but if they can pull it together, I think it can offer a very holistic experience that we've really been missing in U.S. health care," he said.
Privacy advocates have also raised concerns about how Amazon's newest acquisition can leave one's retail purchases, groceries and streaming content under the same umbrella as their health care, though some digital health industry experts think the deal won't change much, for now.
"I think it opens a lot of interesting questions as to kind of where are the ethics and the legal pieces of that moving forward. But so far, the health privacy laws, I think, will provide a pretty good firewall for now," Sakumoto said.