The Business of Healthcare: Is Amazon Clinic a Good Idea?March 9, 2023
Amazon is a trillion-dollar company, with a profit range much like that of the pharmaceutical industry. But Amazon did not make its fortune through healthcare services and medication—at least, not yet.
Amazon was founded in 1994 as an online book seller, offering paperbacks, hardcovers, and every other type of reading material at below the retail prices of the competition. This undercutting put Amazon at the top, and strategic marketing and proper investing is what helped it rise to the number one spot on every browser in the world. Now, Amazon not only sells books, it sells everything. From live lobsters to laundry detergent, everything you need is likely on Amazon, and with free two-day shipping for Prime members and hassle-free return policies, Amazon makes online shopping the convenient, stress-free experience that most people want and with which few companies can compete.
This week, the company launched a new frontier of healthcare convenience: Amazon Clinic. This option, available to Amazon account holders for a fee, offers access to primary care doctors and physicians through online visits. Amazon states that patients will receive “treatment from a licensed clinician by filling out an intake form. Your clinician will review your information and send a personalized treatment plan, which may include a prescription for medication. No appointment needed.” This type of on-demand healthcare is not a new concept—during the COVID-19 pandemic, many doctor’s offices turned to telehealth to lessen the disruption in business operations and ensure patients could still receive healthcare. But Amazon offers a new, fully virtual approach to medicine that could be a true turning point in how healthcare is provided from here on out.
Cybersecurity, PII, and Online Healthcare
With online healthcare comes associated risks when dealing with a virtual landscape. But do the benefits outweigh these risks? Not only is telehealth convenient, but it is also usually offered at a reduced fee compared to an in-person visit. Predictive data suggests that Amazon may drive down the price of pharmacy drugs and healthcare overall due to its typical practice of undercutting, which could benefit all patients, not just Amazon Clinic users. This online Clinic could help to streamline healthcare, reducing wait times at hospitals and doctor’s offices which can often become overwhelmed with non-urgent visits. And many other benefits can be seen with the introduction of Amazon Clinic and similar practices.
Amazon is not new to this landscape either. It has been offering pharmaceuticals online for years and copious preparations for this next venture in health were made. The company bought One Medical, a healthcare organization for $3.9 billion dollars, and has been working to integrate their licensed doctors and a seamless clinic system into their online platform since 2022.
In 2002, twenty years earlier, Amazon also spearheaded the Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform of cloud computing that many high-profile government and private industries rely upon for management of their products, data, and services. AWS touts that it uses the “highest standards for privacy and data security” and that users can trust AWS to “provide [the] technical, operational, and contractual measures needed to protect your data.”
But with any online data storage comes risk. And telehealth poses all sorts of risks for exposing personally identifiable information (PII) and protected health information (PHI). Deloitte published a report on this matter, stating that “virtual health adds to this risk exposure in key areas of cyber risk, such as: technology failures, lack of informed consent, complex identity and access management, increased compliance requirements, physical security risks, legacy IT infrastructure, unpatched software in consumer environments, and increased third-party risks.” Even in-home listening devices like Alexa or Ring can record a telehealth visit without realization. It is these details that can be overlooked or undermanaged, leaving private data exposed and vulnerable to hackers.
And Amazon is not immune to cybercrime. In fact, Amazon faced a widespread data breach just days before Black Friday in 2018, but luckily only account holders’ email addresses and names were seemingly disclosed.
One Medical CEO Amir Dan Rubin commented on this public and very real concern, assuaging fears by stating that "many healthcare companies, One Medical included, have been hosted on Amazon Web Services for close to 15 years. I think that information is way more private and secure here than decentralized in the cloud."
Within just this week, the Northeast Surgical Group in Michigan was hacked, exposing the social security numbers, addresses, and health information of more than 15,000 patients. Also this week, the Washington Times reported that the health insurance marketplace information for many U.S. House and Senate lawmakers as well as congressional staff was hacked, exposing private PII.
The Need for a Skilled Workforce
It seems no one person or company is entirely safe from cybercrime, though some may be better trained than others. The fate of one’s privacy and data often relies on being an informed online user, using common sense, and practicing good cyber hygiene to help mitigate user risks, and properly trained technicians, cloud engineers, and cybersecurity professionals are needed to ensure backend protection and risk management.
Capitol Technology University offers degrees in cybersecurity, health and safety, and many others, including a Ph.D. in Healthcare Cybersecurity, that ensure our graduates can meet these evolving needs of our digital world and learn the skills necessary to protect important information from ever-growing cyber risks. We also offer degrees in Cyberpsychology that explore the human factors behind cybercrime. For more information on our cyber degree offerings, visit our website or register for an online info session.