Change is in the air

How will Amazon and Walmart change healthcare?

With Amazon and Walmart entering the healthcare provider business, it is safe to assume the industry is in for some big changes.

For now Amazon Care will be beta tested with 50,000+ employees living in the Seattle area but you can only imagine that it will be soon available to Haven employees and then Prime members.

Healthcare entrepreneurs and legacy providers have so many questions and likely fears about what’s to come. Your guess is as good as mine.

However, you might get some insights by thinking through some of the questions that will likely surface during the beta test. 

Questions such as:

1/ Is the medical information being shared sufficient to facilitate the continuum of care?

2/ What other types of services do employees need?

3/ What is the best way to deliver those services?

4/ Who is the best provider of those services?

5/ What medical needs are predictable?

6/ Are employees open to health and wellness product recommendations?

7/ What other medical products should be offered on Amazon to enable self-care?

8/ When do employees schedule in-person appointments?

9/ What are the most highly sought after appointments?

10/ Do we have enough contracted providers available to meet demand and service expectations?

Now think about what they do well, what they will likely buy and what they will likely need to complete the marketplace.

Amazon vs. Walmart:

As you likely know, Amazon and Walmart serve different customers and do so in a different way. Amazon operates a marketplace with the same type of product offered at different prices whereas Walmart strives to offer the lowest priced product to their customer. 

Start by thinking about what Amazon offers all consumers:

1/ Consumers see the full marketplace of products relevant to their search.

2/ Results are displayed by most relevant.

3/ Filters can be used to narrow the options.

4/ Recommendations and reviews provide verified consumer feedback.

5/ Consumers can filter for products included in Prime.

Now think about how that translates to healthcare.

1/ Heathcare Consumers would see all licensed providers: contracted or not.

2/ Healthcare Consumers would be able to search and use filters to narrow their search.

3/ Healthcare Consumers would be able to read service details, reviews and recommendations.

4/ Healthcare Consumers could filter for providers included in [……..]

In what?

Amazon could administer other networks [Medicare and Commercial Networks] and/or develop a Prime healthcare network that resolves the confidentiality issues of existing networks.

Pricing + Contracting

With Amazon, it’s not necessarily a race to the bottom for healthcare providers. Prime rates are not always the cheapest but free shipping and the ease of dealing with Amazon customer service makes membership and the added cost worth every penny.

Healthcare providers should be thinking about who they serve and how to differentiate their serves in the marketplace.

Review your data to help answer questions:

1/ Why do patients choose you? Simply asking if they use Amazon or shop at Walmart might give you some good insights too.

2/ What do they say about the experience? Collect feedback about care and service separately.

3/ Do you have unpaid patient balances? Your patients may be underinsured or dissatisfied with your service or maybe your business practices need refining. 

Commercial payers understand that it is not a one size fits all marketplace. If the patient population you serve puts a higher value on your care and services, they do too.

Save on Healthcare

Shopping for healthcare takes a little research and know how but there is real money to be saved.

No one likes to pay more than they have to for anything.

Did you know you can buy car parts on Amazon? I didn’t until someone broke one of my tail lights and it looked like an easy DIY [Do It Yourself] project. I was able to find the exact part and as a Prime member got it shipped to me FREE. It was so easy that I couldn’t help but do a little more shopping.

Why am I telling you about shopping for car parts?

No one ever pegged me as someone who would buy car parts or attempt a DIY project on my car. Like many people, I have a trusted relationship with my mechanic and whatever repairs he recommends, I approve and pay him to do.

Similarly many Americans put their full trust in their doctors and approve their recommendations regardless of cost. However, that could change. My DIY project wasn’t as easy as it looked on YouTube. After breaking 3 finger nails and 2 screw drivers, I gave up and made an appointment with my mechanic. While there I decided to have a few more minor repairs done. This time I was speechless when I saw the quote. My mechanic quoted me 4 times [4x] the cost for the parts. How do I know? I remembered seeing the parts on Amazon.

A 4x markup is comparable to the markup routinely charged on high dollar supplies and implants in healthcare. The difference is healthcare consumers only pay a small portion of the marked up cost after the insurance discount and payment. I didn’t say anything to my mechanic at the time, but it made me realize that pricing transparency is a game changer.

Amazon for healthcare

Amazon has already announced plans to start selling prescription drugs. It’s going to take some work before they are ready to fill their first prescription but when they do, it could be a big cost saver for many Americans. There is currently no way to compare the cost of drugs at different pharmacies or covered by different health plans. Amazon could make it as easy as shopping for car parts by providing a marketplace for pharmaceutical companies.

Amazon already sells medical supplies.

Imagine how surprised my mechanic was when I drove into his garage with a trunk filled with parts. I had also purchased new lenses and seals to replace my cloudy headlight covers and was surprised when my mechanic refused to do the work. What I didn’t understand when purchasing the lenses was that changing only the lens would impair the integrity of the light and cause bigger problems later. He recommended a body shop if I absolutely wanted to do it. His refusal to do the repair requested may have been upsetting for some, but for me it spoke to his integrity as a trusted advisor. I returned the lenses and seals.

Can you see that scenario playing out if healthcare consumers start buying their own supplies and implants? Using the Amazon filters to narrow the options that are right for your make and model of car is easy enough but the process is still lacking the intelligence and judgement that you get from a highly trained professional. Let’s try not to imagine a medical DIY project guided by a YouTube video for now.

Amazon-like services available now


There are online pharmacies available now. If you do plan to purchase your prescription drugs make sure you buy from one of the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites [VIPPS] otherwise you might not get a quality drug. To save money now, talk with your doctors about generics and bio-similar drugs that can save you money and ensure you get the right medication. You may also be able to qualify for patient assistance from a pharmaceutical company.

Healthcare Services:

There are also web-sites that can give you “fair prices” for healthcare services including surgery. Fair prices are generated from historical claims data collected from participating companies, providers and payers.

Healthcare Bluebook is one of the sites available to consumers FREE and a good place to start your shopping. If you use the site, be sure to enter your Zip Code to get the prices for healthcare services offered near you and click on the Details to learn what’s included in the price. For surgery, the fair price on Healthcare Bluebook includes the fees for the facility [hospital or Ambulatory Surgery Center], surgeon and anesthesiologist plus all the supplies and implants. When the fees of different service providers are included in one price, it’s referred to as a bundle.

If you call a hospital or an ASC for a quote, ask them for a bundled price too. Chances are they have one that could save you money and make it easier for you to get your arms around the total cost and the billing.


You can also order many of your own lab tests through or Quest Diagnostics to check your cholesterol, diabetes, colon cancer, prostate etc. without a physician order. The rates are comparable to cash rates which are often significantly less than the full price because the labs get their money from you at time of service.

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About the Author: Shannon Smith is a healthcare strategist with over fifteen years of experience helping companies achieve greater success. She is also the founder and CEO of Hello Workout.

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