Amazon is sending all kinds of signals that it's interested in the health-care industry.
CNBC reported in May that the company was on the hunt for a general manager to lead a new pharmacy unit. Since then, it has brought on a slew of health experts to bolster its cloud offering, Amazon Web Services, and rallied the industry to build applications for its Alexa voice technology. Amazon has also been selling medical supplies online for some time.
That interest is making some players in the health-care industry nervous.
"I get asked all the time what Amazon is doing," said Tom Rodgers, managing director of McKesson Ventures. McKesson, a medical distribution giant, is one of the companies that analysts suggest would be poised for disruption by Amazon.
"Everyone in the supply chain is nervous," Rodgers acknowledged. "It's a low-level paranoia that Amazon will drive down profitability."
But Rodgers doesn't think Amazon will take on the big distributors head on — at least not right away. Instead, he thinks the company will want to be the "partner of choice" to help consumers navigate health care.
"I would expect a marketplace of sorts for consumers to choose a doctor or service, and schedule it," he explained. The companies that would be threatened — or potentially bolstered through M&A and/or partnerships with Amazon — are early stage and include consumer health tools like Zocdoc, Castlight, Teladoc and GoodRx.
Rodgers expects that Amazon will roll this out in a quiet way by developing strategic partnerships and building its own internal tools. Someday, he said, users will wake up and realize that Amazon has access to a huge repository of health data, which will be easily accessible in the cloud.
That might pave the way for Amazon to get into other areas of health care, including pharmaceutical distribution.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see them partner with a pharmacy home delivery company first and let them deal with the regulation and operating burden," he said. "Only after they prove they can deliver demand, then (Amazon could) make their own investments."