From Amazon Pharmacy to Ping An’s telemedicine offering, COVID-19 has accelerated digital inroads into healthcare, but it isn’t necessarily a smooth ride.

What’s occurring?

In the US this week, Amazon launched a digital pharmacy where people can order medication and pay using their health insurance. Amazon Prime members who choose not to use their insurance can get discounts – introducing an element of price transparency that consumers have long demanded.

Something similar is happening in China, where, Ping An CEO Jessica Tan told McKinsey, a decision by regulators to allow social health insurance to reimburse telemedicine expenses has led to hundreds of internet hospitals “booming”.

Tan reports eight billion telemedicine consultations across China every year and says that during COVID, traffic on Ping An’s Good Doctor platform increased more than eight times as people avoided hospitals.

She also sees telemedicine increasing standardisation of the quality of healthcare in China and greater use of AI to surface potential diagnoses before human doctors make a final judgement.

Is there a problem?

For Amazon, the challenge is to change ingrained consumer habits and draw people away from their neighbourhood pharmacies. Despite the recent shift to online shopping, it might not be a simple matter to get consumers to redirect recurring prescriptions and many will still prefer to speak directly to a pharmacist.

In China, regulators have to ensure internet hospitals have qualified doctors and are not scams, while doctors need to get more comfortable with using AI. And consumers, Tan notes, don’t want to pay for digital services, “so more work needs to be done to make the model sustainable financially”.

Sourced from Bloomberg, McKinsey