Health and Science

An Amazon Prime Day for health care? Here's what experts say it could look like

Key Points
  • Amazon uses Prime Day to tout its brands and services.
  • Amazon plans to acquire PillPack, and could incorporate it into next year's Prime Day.
  • Health-care professionals think Amazon could make a big impact when it comes to health-care services.
An employee unloads a truck load of packages at the United Parcel Service (UPS) Chicago Area Consolidation Hub in Hodgkins, Illinois.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

This year, Amazon is extending Prime Day deals to discounts on food purchases in store at Whole Foods, one year after acquiring the grocery chain. Since the retail giant has acquired online pharmacy firm PillPack, that got me thinking — what kind of Prime Day deals could Amazon come up with for health care in the year ahead?

Offering discounts on prescriptions would seem like a natural option, but a number of health-care professionals think Amazon could also make a big impact when it comes to health-care services.

Walmart's been pretty successful with their wellness days, providing free screening for blood pressure, for blood glucose,” said Vaughn Kauffman, partner in PwC’s health advisory unit, adding that Amazon’s ability to leverage customer data presents an opportunity for “really connecting the dots between how consumers use health care and what options could be presented.”

Just as Amazon has become a destination for a number of brands to sell their goods, it could serve as a platform for health-care-related services.

“Do a Prime Day sign-up 10% off for ride-sharing,” suggested Dr. David Friend, managing director at BDO’s health innovation center.

“I bet you there are probably millions of people like my parents right now, who cannot drive and don't want to be in a nursing home,” and would like the ease of using those services through Amazon, Dr. Friend said. “You cannot underestimate how simplicity is so important.”

Lisa Suennen, senior managing director for health care at GE Ventures, thinks Amazon could really help lower costs for consumers with deals for out-of-pocket costs to get care for chronic conditions.

“If you could buy discounted co-pays — basically co-pay free visits in the a bundle, where ... instead of paying $15-$20 every time you show up, you could buy a package of discounted visits,” Suennen said. “It would be interesting if you could buy that to gift to people for (things like) home care or physical therapy, or mental health care.”

A number of health insurers, such as UnitedHealth Group offer members rewards like gift cards to retail stores for completing wellness check-ups, or getting a flu shot. New York State insurer Capital District Physician’s Health Plan has tried to take its rewards one step further.

"We are tightly regulated, so we can't do exactly what Amazon is doing, but we can offer customers ... creative ways to save,” said Ali Skinner, a spokeswoman for Capital District Physicians' Health Plan.

“We have a program called Embrace Health, which gives customers $200 to spend on anything medical, fitness, or nutrition-related. We had one customer build a rock (climbing) wall with his money,” she said.

“You see examples of this sort of thing in health care today, but just here and there — nothing organized on a national scale,” the way Amazon could, said Alex Tolbert, CEO of Nashville-based Bernard Health. He noted, Tennessee start-up MDSave provides a platform where patients can get discounted prices by paying for medical imaging and doctor’s visits in advance, saving those providers the cost of billing.

Disrupting how we pay for care could well be where Amazon could use Prime to make the biggest impact in bringing down costs.

“A lot of this is 'how do we shift the industry from a reimbursement model' to a more straight-forward payment process," said PwC's Kauffman. “If there's no claim (process) behind the thing — it really becomes more of a retail transaction.”

Making health-care billing simpler would be a significant challenge — even for a behemoth like Amazon. Yet, nobody is discounting the online giant’s potential to influence change in health care either through its retail, web services and Alexa platforms, or through its venture with Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan.

“People are looking at Amazon not just as a potential threat, but as an actual player,” said Suennen, adding “one of the things that Amazon has done well is that they've hired a lot of really smart health care people — it's not just throwing tech at the problem.”

Certainly, more established health-care players are all watching carefully to see what Amazon has in mind when it comes to Prime for consumer health.

WATCH: Amazon rolling out big deals for 'Prime Day.' Here's what to expect

Amazon rolling out big deals for 'Prime Day.' Here's what to expect
Amazon rolling out big deals for 'Prime Day.' Here's what to expect