Amazon Care: If You Build It, Will They Come?

Employers have long been at the vanguard of the digital transformation of healthcare, driving innovations to address the “triple aim”—make healthcare more user-friendly, improve health outcomes, and, ultimately, lower costs. They do this because they have a great deal on the line. The cost of an employer-sponsored family health plan just passed $20,000 per year. On average, according to the annual employer survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, employers are bearing 71 percent of that cost. 

This week, Amazon introduced a novel addition to their employee benefits, Amazon Care, combining telehealth, text chat support, and in-person care at home and in the office. This approach has the potential to make it easier for employees to get the care they need, when and where they need it. 

In our experience, it’s also part of a trend in employee health benefits—providing virtual care solutions for common primary care needs, and access to high-touch in-person care for more complex conditions. More and more employers have telehealth offerings. According to an annual survey of employers from the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), employers’ highest priority for 2020 is implementing more virtual care solutions. Nearly all employers now offer telehealth for common, acute care, and 82 percent offer virtual mental health services. 

There’s also been a tremendous amount of innovation in on-site or near-site clinics for employees. According to NBGH, about a third of employers plan to offer them in 2020, and that number grows to half of employers for 2021-2022. 

But the big question when it comes to Amazon Care, and really all employee health benefits is: If you build it, will they come? 

Program utilization is the key to driving better outcomes and lower costs, but it is also one of the biggest challenges for employers. Take telehealth, for example. According to Mercer’s most recent employer survey, utilization of telemedicine services remains around 8 percent of eligible members.

We know better program utilization is possible when we can harness data to steer people to the right care, at the right cost, at the right moment. Employers using our Castlight Complete health navigation platform have experienced a 2x increase in program utilization for our ecosystem partners, including virtual care solutions. 

Doing so requires a personalization engine that can identify employees who need telehealth services, an on-site clinic, or who might benefit from more high-touch in-person care; surfacing that care for them; and catching them at the moment they need care. For example, if an employer offers an on-site or near-site clinic, an employee searching for an acute care need will see that result first in their Castlight search results. While that example is simplistic, identifying who can benefit from the programs employers are offering and surfacing them seamlessly requires a strong data foundation and technology that is intuitive and easy to use.

Amazon Care holds a lot of promise in this regard. There are few companies that know more than Amazon about how to effectively harness technology to transform the user experience and make products people really want to use. We’re excited to see what they bring to health care.