Exclusive: Amazon Is Secretly Testing a Direct-to-Consumer Health Bet – Business Insider


Amazon is testing out another healthcare business, showing that the tech giant continues to experiment with ways to disrupt the industry.
The latest project, code-named Katara, is a virtual-care effort that’s being tested on Amazon’s workers, two current employees said. It’s designed to offer people online care for common conditions such as acne or hair loss, according to one of the employees. 
Amazon is testing Katara as it acquires One Medical and shutters Amazon Care, which shows how the tech giant is refining its efforts to finding ways into the $4.1 trillion US healthcare market. In recent years, Amazon has accelerated its healthcare ambitions by acquiring an online pharmacy and building lab-testing infrastructure.
Katara’s approach could create a potent challenge to direct-to-consumer healthcare companies like Hims and Ro, which similarly sell treatment plans for health issues like erectile dysfunction over the internet.
When contacted, Amazon said it didn’t comment on rumors or speculation.
Ro, which recently raised $150 million in a funding round that valued it at $7 billion, Bloomberg reported, says it’s building a “patient-centric healthcare system.” Many of its plans require monthly cash payments and send prescriptions through the mail.
Amazon’s intentions with Katara stand in contrast to how it built Amazon Care, a primary- and urgent-care venture that it decided to shut down in August.
Amazon Care had care teams that saw patients through an app and, sometimes, in person through home visits. Its clients were other employers, which paid it monthly fees. Though Amazon Care had ambitions to go in network with health plans and sell services directly to consumers, the efforts didn’t gain enough traction, and the service is set to end operations in December, Amazon has said. 
Katara is overseen by Aaron Martin, the two employees said. He sits under Neil Lindsay, the boss of Amazon Health Services. Amazon Health is a growing umbrella of health bets, not least of which include One Medical, the primary-care startup Amazon is buying for $3.9 billion.
A former Amazon Kindle executive, Martin rejoined the tech giant in March from Providence, a Washington health system, where he led digital-health efforts. 
In a statement to Insider about the Amazon Care shutdown, a spokesperson said the company would continue to reimagine the future of the healthcare industry.
Its long-term vision is to make it easier for people to access the health products and services they need, the spokesperson said. 
“We are proud of the work we’ve done, and will continue to invent, learn from our customers and industry partners, and hold ourselves to the highest standards as we further help reimagine the future of health care and the role Amazon can play,” the spokesperson added.
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