Amazon Pharmacy brings prescription to your doorstep and health care data to feed machine learning

BY , Sarah E. Swank

Amazon recently leaped into health care and may have advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions at the same time. On November 17, 2020, Amazon announced an expansion of its ever-growing platform into health care—Amazon Pharmacy, a new store on Amazon. How does a business that first started off as an online bookseller expand its business into the health care sphere? Likely, through years and years of data collection.

So, what is Amazon Pharmacy?

Customers create pharmacy profiles to add their insurance information and manage their prescriptions. Amazon Pharmacy touts unlimited, free two-day delivery and available discounts for its Prime members. The service is advertised to offer on-the-spot medication information, including comparison of branded and generic drugs, dosages, and insured or non-insured pricing, as well as prescriber requests and access to "fully digital, personalized quality care." The services allow customers to purchase prescription medications through online or mobile means selecting either cash or insurance coverage based on pricing information.

Where does Amazon get its data?

Amazon grew its market share across industries through collecting, storing, processing, and analyzing personal information. This amassing of big data allows Amazon to take a very customer-based approach to its business. Amazon continues building on its own data machine, AWS (Amazon Web Services). Amazon proclaims AWS "offers the broadest and deepest set of machine learning services and supporting cloud infrastructure, putting machine learning in the hands of every developer, data scientist and expert practitioner."

What does AI and blockchain have to do with health care?

The more data Amazon is able to feed into its AWS system, the smarter and the more capable the system becomes. Amazon explains how AWS and blockchain have made it possible for Amazon to operate in health care through the creation of a unique patient registry. Amazon also discusses how the effective creation of a registry allows this data to be accessible and available to different health institutions. Amazon Pharmacy in theory is built on standards that allow the information to be retrieved and shared in a safe, scalable, and cost-efficient way, among the health care system. Amazon utilized blockchain because of the unique challenges faced when sharing health care information, including the complexity, variability, security, and privacy considerations.

Data, data everywhere, now what?

Pharmacy data includes data elements that could create learning ranging from effective pharmaceutical use, population health activities, utilization, pricing transparency, cost efficiency, and more. Add in AI and this may change health care. In health care, data often sits within institutions and does not leave—resulting in not enough data for successful and fast AI adoption. Access to sufficient volumes and quality of information is crucial in order to allow further machine learning and AI solutions. It will be interesting to see how Amazon utilizes big data from its new online "store" and how it will navigate the unique challenges of health care data collection and privacy and security requirements.

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Paulina M. Starostka


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Sarah E. Swank


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