Amazon’s creep into healthcare has spooked some experts

Smith told WIRED that Amazon keeps patient health information confidential and secure in accordance with federal law and regulations and in accordance with industry standards; Amazon Clinic customer data will be protected using HIPAA compliant encryption methods. “Protecting patient information is an important part of our business; we are not in the business of selling or sharing it,” Smith wrote.

Amazon’s recent efforts to break into healthcare raise a more fundamental question: Should Big Tech be allowed in the sector? A private company’s motives — efficiency, optimization and, above all, profit — don’t exactly align with serving the public good, says Tamar Sharon, a professor at Radboud University in the Netherlands whose work examines the politics and ethics of Big Tech in health and medicine. – or as she calls it, “the Googling of health”.

Amazon Care, a telehealth service piloted by Amazon among its employees and then rolled out to other customers, shows how things can go wrong. Its closure was announced a few months ago, with senior vice president of programming Neil Lindsay writing in an internal memo shared by Amazon with WIRED: “While our enrolled members liked many aspects of Amazon Care, it’s not a complete enough offering for the large corporate clients we were targeting, and it wasn’t going to work long-term.”

But he was also plagued by other problems. A The Washington Post investigation claims that moving at maximum speed and efficiency sometimes runs counter to best practices in medicine: for example, nurses were asked to process blood samples from patients in their personal cars, the paper reported, and to store and dispose of medical supplies at home, which you protest. (Amazon told Publish (that they can find no record of complaints on these matters.)

“Amazon Care followed common home care practices and knows they are safe and appropriate,” Smith told WIRED. “For example, Amazon Care clinicians have always been equipped with Stericycle medical waste return equipment to properly and safely return or dispose of supplies.”

For Sharon, a big concern is how much we risk relying on big companies as intermediaries for basic societal needs. “This is a dangerous situation – that we will become dependent on a handful of private actors for the distribution of many basic goods, such as health care, education or public services,” she says. For example, as these companies increasingly fund and conduct their own research, it is possible that they will influence how the research agenda is set. This could be a problem if tech founders’ penchant for wanting to live forever leads to a focus on funding longevity research instead of, say, cancer treatments.

Yet the entry of private companies into public spaces is not always inherently bad, Wachter says. Arguably, the multi-trillion dollar US healthcare system is the perfect target for new players. As Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, points out in his newsletter, US health care costs far exceed those in other rich countries, yet life expectancy is lower, creating an opportunity for new services to offer better value to patients. “The American healthcare industry is an injured 7-ton seal floating aimlessly and bleeding at sea. Predators roam,” he wrote. “The Amazon is the stalking megalodon, its 11-foot jaws and 7-inch teeth the largest in history.”

One could argue that Amazon is simply filling a gap in a broken system. With its new service, the company appears to be applying the same principles that made it so successful as a retailer: easy access, fast delivery, competitive pricing — hard-to-find conveniences that certainly appeal to people’s inherent laziness, but which can also do good. healthcare more accessible in a system divided between the haves and the have-nots.

In exchange for convenience and better access, there are likely to be trade-offs. “If we’re going to do this, we want to do it right,” Wachter says. “We just have to think about all the possible negative consequences to make sure they don’t happen.”

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