Amazon shakes up healthcare strategy in 2021: A timeline of key developments

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Amazon strengthened its healthcare presence in 2021, from expanding its health centers to launching new products to inking partnerships with hospitals and health systems. 

Here is a timeline of the tech giant's key healthcare moves in 2021. Developments are separated by three categories: company strategy, partnerships, and products and offerings.

Company strategy

Feb. 2: Jeff Bezos told Amazon employees he is stepping down as CEO of the company and will transition to a leadership role on the company's board later in 2021.

Feb. 11: Bloomberg reported that Amazon hired several employees of Caspr Biotech, a COVID-19 testing startup, in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus among Amazon workers.

March 11: Amazon announced it is opening health centers in five states to provide primary care to its employees. 

March 17: Amazon announced it will roll out its virtual medical service, Amazon Care, for its employees in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., during the summer, with plans to expand the offering to other employers later in 2021.

April 12: Amazon Web Services kicked off the next phase of its $20 million COVID-19 research and diagnostic tools development initiative by broadening the scope of the project to three new areas: early disease detection to identify outbreaks at individual and community levels, prognosis to better understand disease trajectory and public health genomics to strengthen viral genome sequencing. 

May 5: Insider reported that Amazon Care gained its first customer: Precor, a fitness company acquired by Peloton.

May 17: CNBC reported that Amazon will launch WorkingWell, a program that gives employees physical, mental and nutritional support, across its entire U.S. operations network by the end of 2021.

The same day, Insider reported that Amazon is planning to launch a business that will offer at-home medical tests.

May 20: Amazon rolled out a new mental health benefit for its 950,000 U.S. employees, giving them and their families access to services including virtual counseling. 

May 26: CNN reported incoming Amazon CEO Andy Jassy will manage Amazon Care.

June 21: Amazon Web Services launched a health accelerator to offer digital health startups resources, expertise and opportunities to collaborate with AWS healthcare customers and partners.

July 5: Jeff Bezos stepped down as CEO. 

Sept. 27: Amazon Web Services announced it is committing $40 million over three years to its new global program to support equity in health outcomes. 

Oct. 19: Amazon confirmed that it has hired Claire Winiarek, PhD, as director of healthcare public policy.

Oct. 22: Kristen Helton, director of Amazon Care, revealed that the company's in-person services are live in the Seattle, Washington, D.C., Arlington, Va., and Baltimore areas. Ms. Helton also told Becker's that Amazon Care will soon expand to Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

Nov. 15: An Amazon spokesperson confirmed with Becker's that Hilton's U.S. employees who are enrolled in a corporate health plan will have access to Amazon Care in 2022.

Nov. 17: Amazon Cloud CEO Adam Selipsky told Bloomberg the company is going to develop more products catered to specific industries, such as healthcare and telecommunications, to avoid getting too comfortable in broader cloud offerings.

Partnerships

Jan. 5: Clearwater, Fla.-based BayCare Health System deployed Amazon Alexa devices in 2,500 rooms across its 14 hospitals.

Feb. 25: Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh teamed up with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure to develop a machine learning tool to be used in clinical forecasting.

March 3: Amazon Care, Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare and St. Louis-based Ascension became founding members of a healthcare coalition aimed at expanding home-based clinical care. 

March 9: Amazon Web Services and Change Healthcare launched a data science as a service offering that provides de-identified claims data integrated with social determinants of health for more robust data analytics and research on vulnerable patient populations. 

May 24: UPMC Health Plan rolled out a tool that lets members learn more about their benefits and health insurance topics by voicing questions to Amazon Alexa and Google Home Assistant devices.  

July 8: Burlington, Mass.-based Wellforce began working with Amazon to move its entire digital healthcare ecosystem, including its Epic EHR infrastructure, to Amazon Web Services.

Aug. 2: Amazon Web Services extended its multiyear agreement with Baxter so the medical products company can continue to use Amazon's cloud as a foundation for digital transformation.

Aug. 9: GE Healthcare said it will move its artificial intelligence-based imaging applications and secure intelligence platform to Amazon Web Services.

Aug. 12: Olive partnered with Amazon Web Services to use AWS' cloud computing to make its healthcare platform faster and more affordable for 950 hospitals in 40 states.

Sept. 14: A spokesperson from Houston Methodist told Becker's it is collaborating with Amazon Web Services to bring voice technology to the hospital system in operating rooms and exam rooms.

Sept. 27: Amazon Web Services and KidsX, a digital health accelerator owned by Children's Hospital Los Angeles, selected 10 companies to participate in the inaugural AWS Healthcare Accelerator.

Oct. 13: Amazon Web Services, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and several other pharmacy and biotech leaders partnered to launch AION Labs, an innovative drug research project.

Oct. 18: Amazon inked a partnership with TytoCare, which uses remote exam kits for virtual care, to enhance telehealth capabilities.

Oct. 20: Amazon began participating in the Digital Medicine Society's initiative to integrate sensor-generated data into patient care and clinical research.

Nov. 16: Amazon partnered with clinical communication platform Vocera Communications to develop a HIPAA-eligible Alexa skill for hospitals to enable patients to submit voice requests to their clinics via the device.

Nov. 29: Amazon Web Services and UC Davis Health launched a cloud innovation center to bring together physicians, students, patients and developers to prototype ways to make healthcare more accessible and equitable. 

Nov. 30: Foster City, Calif.-based biotech firm Gilead chose Amazon Web Services as its preferred cloud provider.

Products and offerings

March 4: The Verge reported that Amazon debuted a new feature for its Halo health-tracking device: an integration with Amazon Alexa that lets users call up information on their health data via voice command.

March 25: Amazon received emergency use authorization from the FDA for its COVID-19 testing kits, made by Amazon subsidiary STS Lab Holco.

April 12: Amazon said it is testing a hands-free voice interface for patient outcome reporting in medical research settings.

April 20: Amazon augmented Alexa's knowledge of COVID-19 so the device can connect users to nearby COVID-19 vaccine appointments.

May 11: Amazon Pharmacy launched two new prescription services: a prescription savings benefit and a feature that allows customers to check their insurance co-pay before ordering their medication.

June 3: The Verge reported that Amazon is rolling out a new feature for Halo that taps into the user's smartphone camera to scan their body movements and recommend exercises to improve mobility and posture.

June 8: Amazon Pharmacy began a new prescription discount program, lowering the price for some drugs to $1 a month for Prime members.

June 10: Amazon said HealthLake, its service for hospitals that aggregates and standardizes information, can offer patient outcome predictions, like mortality, based on stored data.

June 15: Amazon's COVID-19 test kit, which costs $40 and is compatible with Prime delivery, became available to consumers.

June 16: Amazon released study results showing Halo's body fat percentage scanner gives just as accurate a reading of a person's body fat calculation as methods physicians use.

July 12: Insider reported that the Federal Communications Commission gave Amazon permission to develop a device that uses radar technology to monitor people's sleep.

July 15: Amazon Web Services launched general availability of HealthLake, with Chicago-based Rush University Medical Center among the first customers. On the same day, Amazon launched Amazon Web Services for Health, an initiative to offer curated offerings for thousands of healthcare and life sciences customers worldwide. 

Sept. 27: Amazon revealed three new capabilities available to hospitals via Amazon Connect, a feature on Amazon Web Services' cloud. On the same day, Amazon rolled out three new healthcare-centric updates to its Amazon Halo wearable device focused on improving users' access to their vitals data and nutritional health.

Oct. 25: Amazon launched a new skill for its Alexa voice assistant that will let hospital clinicians call and "drop in" on patients without physically entering their rooms.

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