The Impact of Amazon Breaking into Telemedicine – the 1492 Effect

Amazon, the e-commerce company widely known for selling virtually everything under the sun, has reportedly created a secret lab (called 1492), aimed at bringing the massive company into the healthcare technology space.

More specifically, the 1492 team is reportedly looking into ways to make electronic health records, or EHRs, more accessible to both doctors and patients, while also investigating options for developing a robust telemedicine platform.

According to MedCityNews, when Amazon was contacted regarding 1492, a spokesperson said that the company does not comment on rumor or speculation.

The news of Amazon’s interest in telemedicine should catch the attention of medical professionals and healthcare marketers across the globe.

Telemedicine, in general, has been around for decades. It’s not uncommon, for example, for patients to receive a phone call from their doctor’s office to discuss the results of a test. However, the real benefit of telemedicine is in the concept that patients and their doctors can communicate with ease without the need for a physical visit.

Not only is this more convenient, but is also a cost-effective method of patient management.

Telemedicine is generally practiced from a hub, where a distant practitioner delivers service and advice through a telecommunications system. It’s generally straightforward – through the use of webcams or other types of communication hardware, a patient can speak directly to a doctor from the comfort of their home (or, essentially, anywhere in the world).

But when it comes to scaling telemedicine, this type of setup isn’t ideal. There’s still the need for a singular doctor to offer advice and direct support to an individual patient.

Enter Amazon.

Now, while 1492 is still yet to be confirmed, we can make many assumptions about how Amazon might revolutionize the telemedicine world.

How Amazon knows what you want to buy – before you do

A few years back, Amazon got a patent for an algorithm built around the concept of “anticipatory shipping.” The goal of this algorithm was to be able to trim delivery times by shipping products to different areas of the country based on the shopping habits of the people who live there.

The new system was expected to use previous searches, purchases, wish lists, and how long a user’s cursor hovers over an item online to determine what items get shipped where.

To simplify this, what we’re saying is Amazon has entered a new space in the shopping ecosphere: a space where data takes the decision making out of everyone’s hands. Now, we don’t think that this anticipatory shipping strategy has a place – yet – in medicine. But it demonstrates Amazon’s penchant for developing formulas to increase efficiency and decrease waste – two important keys in the medical field.

They – and Netflix, mind you – have already used data to predict what we want, before we want it. Take a look at this product we shopped for on Amazon:

Amazon uses its algorithm to help us determine what other products we might need to complement this purchase:

Not only that, but they also let us know what other products customers like us have purchased:

While this is all speculation, it’s fun to imagine that Amazon’s 1492 platform might offer the same type of functionality for physicians and patients.

Instead of a “gear backpack” as our initial search, what if we searched, instead, for “Throbbing Neck Pain.”

From then, Amazon’s platform could come back with a series of potential conditions, each with a list of symptoms (rather than features, as is done with products). We as the patient browse each condition and choose the best symptoms that match our own. The more conditions or symptoms we choose, the better refined the platform’s responses would become.

Instead of “Frequency bought together” like above, 1492 could say “Symptoms often correlated with one another.” And, instead of “Customers who bought this item also bought,” the platform could say “People who suffer from these conditions often suffer from …

We can envision a scenario where the patient begins to whittle down his or her symptoms to allow doctors on standby to respond with a far more focused approach.

Now, we don’t think Amazon will try to help patients self-diagnose. Rather, we can assume that they’ll help patients document each of their symptoms. This documentation will then be fed into an algorithm that will alert the platform what next steps should be taken, including:

  • Offering at-home remedies to start
  • Talking directly with an online doctor
  • Making an appointment with a doctor

In addition, patients and doctors would then have an easy way to manage their records and correspondence. It’s fairly simple to log into Amazon and see your past purchases; there’s no reason to assume a telemedicine platform would be any different.

In fact, Amazon uses our past-purchase history to remind us of items we may need. We can definitely see that function serving a purpose in telemedicine. Say, for example, that a patient complains of – or is documented as having – high blood pressure. Amazon’s new telemedicine platform could remind this patient to check his or her pressure, or could suggest certain supplements or dietary changes to help lower it.

Should we embrace Amazon’s entrance into this field?

There’s no question that medical professionals are strapped for time. That’s a shame, because more so than any other profession, the healthcare field should remain focused on the individual.

But a pre-technology approach to medicine isn’t the solution. The old way can’t keep up with current demands. And the current state of telemedicine isn’t necessarily the magic pill either. With one of the largest corporations in the world entering this space, it’ll be exciting to see how Amazon can push the envelope of innovation and create a platform or process that makes telemedicine efficient without compromising the patient-physician relationship.

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