Amazon moves into healthcare: A 2018 timeline

Amazon made headlines this year — especially as it leaped further into the healthcare arena. While there has been speculation about Amazon's entry into the industry for years, announcements by the e-commerce giant in 2018 make it clear that it's planning to make a big splash in healthcare.  

Here's a breakdown of Amazon's healthcare ventures, acquisitions, hiring trends and product developments reported by Becker's Hospital Review. The timeline includes Amazon's healthcare moves since January.

Jan. 16. Amazon begins fielding applications for a HIPAA compliance lead. The job listing was listed on its website.

Jan. 18. The company posts its top 20 cities in the running for the location of its second headquarters, dubbed HQ2. A study predicts Atlanta wins the bid. 

Jan. 24 Amazon's exploratory healthcare team reportedly has grown to more than 30 people. One of those hires includes Martin Levine, MD, a physician specializing in geriatrics from Boston-based Iora Health.

Jan. 30. Amazon announces it will collaborate with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan to launch a company aimed at cutting healthcare costs for their U.S. employees. Shares of other healthcare companies plummet shortly after the announcement.

Feb. 13.  Sources familiar with Amazon's plans say it is pushing to turn its medical supplies business into a major supplier to U.S. hospitals and outpatient clinics. The idea is to establish a one-stop shop for health systems through its separate business-to-business marketplace, Amazon Business. On several occasions, Amazon invites hospital executives to its Seattle headquarters to float ideas for expanding this medical supplies business.

Feb. 21. Reports surface that Amazon has quietly launched an exclusive line of 60 over-the-counter healthcare products. The line is a private label brand called Basic Care and has products ranging from ibuprofen to hair regrowth treatment.

March 9. Amazon hires more than 20 employees, including software engineers, data analysts and business strategists with years of experience in healthcare or pharmaceutical industries. Employees from CVS Health, Express Scripts and UnitedHealth Group have been "poached" over an 18-month period.

March 19.  Former FDA Chief Health Informatics Officer Taha Kasshout joins Amazon's Grand Challenge healthcare team, referred to internally as 1492. Mr. Kasshout will oversee business development for the team's healthcare products.

March 20. A person familiar with the plan goes public to disclose that Amazon's healthcare team is interested in developing healthcare technologies for the elderly. Amazon's interest in health technology for aging populations dates several years, to when company officials met with AARP, a lobby that supports older Americans, to discuss various collaborations and share research. Additionally, Babak Parviz, PhD, Amazon's vice president of special projects, spoke about its plans to aid elderly through technology at an event in February. Dr. Parviz also reportedly took a cross-country bus tour in the spring of 2014 to learn how technology could assist the aging population.

March 21. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office grants Amazon a new patent for a delivery drone that can respond to human gestures. This is not Amazon's only patent to expand its air delivery service. Experts say this delivery service may disrupt supply chains across all industries.

April 16. The e-commerce giant's separate business-to-business marketplace, Amazon Business, shelves its plan to become a major pharmaceutical supplier to large U.S. hospitals and outpatient clinics. The company was unable to persuade larger hospitals and health systems to adhere to a different purchasing process. Instead, Amazon will focus on beefing up its less sensitive medical supply offerings to smaller hospitals and clinics.

May 11. CNBC reports that Amazon has built a team within its Alexa division to explore ways of making the device, which is powered by artificial intelligence, more useful in healthcare. The healthcare team, dubbed "health & wellness," is exploring disease management, aging and care for mothers and infants.

June 6. CNBC divulges several projects that Grand Challenge is working on. One project involves cancer research in collaboration with Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The duo hopes to apply machine learning to prevent and cure cancers. Grand Challenge also is working with Amazon Web Services, the company's cloud business, on a project called Hera, intended to help commercial health insurers by reviewing EHR data to point out coding mistakes or misdiagnoses. In addition, the team is exploring ways to use technology to help the elderly.

June 20. Atul Gawande, MD, a surgeon at Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital and contributor to The New Yorker, is tapped to lead Amazon, Berkshire, and JP Morgan's healthcare company. He assumes the CEO role at the venture July 9.

June 28. Amazon enters into an agreement to acquire online pharmacy startup PillPack for about $1 billion. PillPack is a full-service pharmacy that manages prescription medications for its customers by packaging, organizing and delivering the medications. Shares of major drugstore chains and pharmaceutical distributors plunge after the news surfaces.

July 10. Nimblr, a healthcare artificial intelligence company confirms to Becker's that it integrated with Amazon Alexa. The integration allows patients at some medical practices to schedule appointments using their Amazon Alexa.

July 12. Bloomberg reports Amazon is seeking to improve its relationship with healthcare manufacturers and service providers by hiring a head of healthcare manufacturers and service team within its Amazon Business marketplace.

July 12. CNBC reports Amazon is in talks with Xealth, a startup that offers a digital prescribing and analytics platform, and two health systems about a pilot project. The project would enable physicians to recommend medical product bundles to their patients at the hospital. Then those products would be delivered to the patients' homes upon discharge. Although a small number of hospitals would be involved with the initial pilot program, the idea would be to expand it across the nation.

July 19. Amazon is rumored to be in talks to invest in an Indian pharmacy chain, known as MedPlus. MedPlus operates more than 1,400 pharmacies across India and provides services to more than 10,000 people. The pharmacy chain also operates an online pharmacy store called MedPlusMart, several lab testing centers and a surgical equipment distribution business.

Aug. 10.  Amazon considers opening primary care clinics for its employees at its headquarters in Seattle. The tentative plan is to hire a small number of physicians to start a pilot clinic later in 2018.

Aug. 15. More than 500 groups have registered to build apps using Blue Button 2.0, an open application programming interface tool developed by CMS. The e-commerce giant is one of them.

Aug. 20. Maulik Majmudar, MD, a renowned cardiologist from Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital tweets that he decided to join Amazon's team.

Sept. 4. The healthcare venture formed by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase selects its COO — Jack Stoddard. Mr. Stoddard formerly served as an executive for Comcast and Optum.

Sept. 17. Accenture and Merck announce they are partnering with Amazon to launch a data-driven drug development platform on Amazon Web Services. The cloud-based platform will give  pharmaceutical, biotechnology and scientific institutions access to research data to inform decisions at early stage drug development. The platform is expected to open to software vendors in November.

Sept. 18. Change Healthcare and Amazon team up to launch a new cloud-based claims and payments network for payers and providers. The network will be available on Amazon Web Services and will deploy technologies like Blockchain.  

Sept. 20. STAT reports that the healthcare venture formed by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase selected a global consulting firm to help craft its strategy to lower healthcare spending of its employees. The Boston-based firm, Monitor Group, will help the e-commerce giant reach this goal by helping drive improvements in the care of chronically ill patients.  

Sept. 28. News breaks that Amazon and Google both invested in Aiva, a startup that uses smart speakers to connect patients and seniors with their healthcare providers.

Oct. 9. Amazon filed a patent for its virtual voice assistant, Alexa, which aims to detect when a user is sick. The device would then help sell users medications.

Oct. 15. Becker's reports Amazon is fielding applications for a data scientist to join its health team. The scientist would work on its health insurance plan which is in the Amazon Benefits Department. The employee would be responsible for establishing data science, business intelligence, analytics and reporting capabilities for the health plan.

Oct. 23. Amazon's cloud computing platform Amazon Web Services teams up with the National Institutes of Health's Technology Research Infrastructure for Discovery, Experimentation, and Sustainability Initiative. The initiative aims to help link biomedical researchers with their colleagues across the world.

Oct. 26. Amazon, through a partnership with health brand consultancy Arcadia Group, will sell an exclusive new brand of consumer-focused medical devices, including blood pressure cuffs and glucose monitors. Arcadia Group said it had created a brand of at-home medical devices for Amazon, called Choice.

Nov. 5. The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon plans to split its second headquarters between two locations. The surprise decision to build two offices for its HQ2, in addition to its first headquarters in Seattle, is driven by the need to recruit the best tech talent and ease  potential issues with housing or transit, according to people familiar with the decision. Under the revised plan, Amazon would split the workforce evenly with about 25,000 employees in each city. It will view all three of its main offices as headquarters with similar executive functions. However, the split means the company will build two smaller offices than its Seattle home base, which has 45,000 workers.

Nov. 7. Amazon, through a partnership with generic store brand pharmaceutical maker Aurohealth, will launch a fourth exclusive over-the-counter medication brand called Primary Health. The OTC Primary Health brand has four products available on Amazon, including two generic versions of Mucinex DM, a generic version of Nexium 24 Hour and a generic version of Prilosec OTC.

Nov. 8. Amazon's cloud computing business, Amazon Web Services, adds three "HIPPA-eligible" machine learning tools to its pipeline of services.  

Nov. 13. Amazon officially picks the winners for its second headquarters, opting to split it between Long Island in New York and Crystal City in Arlington County, Virginia.

Nov. 19. The joint health company formed by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase hires its first female executive, Dana Safran. Ms. Safran was the former chief performance measurement and improvement officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. She will assume her position of "head of measurement" at the health venture early in 2019.

Nov. 21. CNBC reports that Amazon will soon allow its employees to test out PillPack, the online pharmacy the e-commerce giant purchased earlier in the year.

Nov. 26.  Accenture, Merck and Amazon's cloud-based drug discovery platform opens to software vendors. More than 30 sign up opening day.

Nov. 27. Amazon announces plans to sell software that can mine patient health records for data to help physicians improve treatment plans and to help hospitals cut costs.

Dec. 6. Becker's confirms Amazon hired Jason Tzau, PharmD, to help oversee the company's employee benefits plan. A pharmacist by training, Dr. Tzau serves as Amazon's U.S. healthcare benefits principal. He joined earlier in December. In his role, Mr. Tzau will lead and participate in  initiatives to improve Amazon's healthcare benefits programs and service. He will also work closely with Amazon's new healthcare company with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase, serving as a liaison between Amazon's benefits team on behalf of employees and the new healthcare venture.

Dec. 12. CNBC reports that Amazon will team up with Omron Healthcare, a healthcare products developer, to create a blood pressure skill for its voice assistant Alexa.

Read a timeline leading up to Amazon's healthcare moves in 2018 here.

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