Within the next few weeks, UK consumers will be able to log onto either Amazon or Boots’s website and order a home test for delivery that will tell them if they have had the coronavirus.
It’s a key step in the UK’s fight against the coronavirus, but for Amazon, it also represents a fortuitous step towards its wider move into the healthcare space.
The home test kit works by pricking the user’s finger for blood, which it then tests for the presence of Covid-19 antibodies. The results take around 15 minutes, with a positive result indicating – at least in theory – whether a person has had the coronavirus and recovered.
The UK government has at present ordered 3.5 million of the tests, and is currently validating their accuracy before they are made available to members of the NHS and the public. It is not yet clear exactly when this will be, although Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, told the BBC on Wednesday that it was unlikely to be next week.
It is not the first partnership Amazon has entered into with a UK institution. Last year, the tech giant was given access to NHS data as part of an initiative to enable the UK health body to offer expert health advice through Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant.
Although widely criticised, the move was a key first step for Amazon into the UK health space, but the contract to provide delivery services for coronavirus home test kits is an unplanned for but valuable second step.
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Amazon’s healthcare ambitions
Although the US tech giant has generally declined to discuss the matter, it has been widely acknowledged that Amazon is making a slow but ambitious bid to become a key player in the healthcare space, not only in the UK, but in key markets across the world.
“First and foremost, Amazon sees a highly inefficient, highly regulated and potentially very lucrative multitrillion-dollar global healthcare market,” Jeff Becker, senior tech analyst at US market research company Forrester, previously told the Guardian.
“While most other companies are put off by the high barriers to market entry, organisations of the size and complexity of Amazon are not dissuaded, and see a major financial opportunity.”
At present, the company is developing its offering in this space through Amazon Care, a trial healthcare project for its Seattle-based employees, which in the last week has extended to provide coronavirus test kits to nearby residents.
“Amazon Care is currently a healthcare service exclusively for Amazon employees located in Seattle, which in the last few days has also become involved with the Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network (SCAN) for delivery of testing kits to the general population in that area,” Nick Benson, research analyst at Marketline, a GlobalData company, tells Verdict.
“Amazon Care is widely thought to be a pilot for Amazon’s future healthcare operations.”
Amazon’s investment in its Care project has already been significant, with the acquisition of one startup alone, digital pharmacy PillPack, costing the company $1bn.
Amazon and the coronavirus home test delivery: An opportunity in UK healthcare
While prior to the coronavirus outbreak Amazon was unlikely to be planning to take on a delivery contract for the UK government of home test kits for any disease this early in 2020, it is well-placed to take on the challenge.
“Amazon’s capacity to deliver testing kits really depends on the capital it is investing in its healthcare operations, and on the capacity already in reserve for these,” says Benson.
“Amazon Care’s delivery of testing kits in Seattle, using specially-trained couriers, has already demonstrated its ability to rapidly ramp up its dormant healthcare potential.”
This shift may require further reprioritisation of deliveries, which has already been started by Amazon as it seeks to meet the needs of a population that finds itself in lockdown.
However, this shift is likely to prove worth it, as it will for the first time introduce many members of the UK population to the idea of Amazon as a trusted healthcare provider.
“In the UK, and Europe more broadly, the first challenge to implementation will be established public healthcare. Consumers need to be acclimatised to thinking of Amazon as part of the healthcare landscape,” explains Benson.
“The first step towards this was the provision of NHS Choices through Alexa. Covid-19 has provided the next opportunity: for Amazon to next become a logistics partner to the NHS.”
Amazon in the UK: Towards healthcare dominance
While the delivery of coronavirus home test kits is a key step for Amazon in the UK space, Benson argues that it fills an essential gap in the provision of healthcare in the UK.
“The ageing population has already created a critical need for remote medical services, in order to relieve pressure on hospitals,” he says.
“In other words, the NHS does actually need a logistics partner, and Covid-19 has only made that need more urgent. Of course Amazon is going to make a bid for that.”
However, in the long run, Amazon is not expected to stop at logistics, but instead join the growing list of private companies providing tech-driven solutions to augment or perhaps even replace parts of the NHS.
“This isn’t a seismic shift for Amazon. Its goals will revolve around its two pre-existing strengths: data and logistics,” says Benson.
“Through its Alexa service and the wearables that it runs on (currently smartwatches), Amazon will be able to monitor health indicators and automatically push treatments, the same way it monitors consumer preferences and pushes products. Fulfilment of these treatments will be through its existing logistics network.”
Amazon was approached for this article but declined to provide comment.