Amazon’s upcoming launch of a major expansion to its Amazon Clinic telemedicine service is being delayed, allegedly due to concerns about data privacy practices raised by lawmakers and detailed in a recent POLITICO report. According to an anonymous source’s email acquired by POLITICO, Amazon is planning to pause its promotional campaign until July 19th. At present, Amazon Clinic offers services in 33 states, providing asynchronous care. This enables patients to fill out a form for treatment of conditions such as urinary tract infections, acid reflux, and pink eye, among others, and also to procure emergency contraception and birth control.
The tech giant had intended to announce the expansion of synchronous care — live video treatment — to all 50 states. However, an Amazon spokesperson rejected the notion that the delay is due to external inquiries. The spokesperson emphasized the company’s adherence to stringent privacy policies and compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and all other relevant laws and regulations.
The reason behind the alleged delay centers on data privacy issues. According to the email, Amazon’s decision is a response to POLITICO’s coverage of a letter by Senators Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) expressing concern about Amazon’s potential “harvesting” of patient health data. The lawmakers’ letter highlighted a clause in Amazon Clinic’s terms that requires patients to sign a release giving Amazon complete access to their health data. Customers who agree to this enable Amazon to share their data and acknowledge it isn’t protected by HIPAA. This is aimed at enhancing the patient experience by avoiding duplication of information if Amazon’s third-party provider changes.
The concern over data sharing arises as more health information goes digital and the risk of exploitation increases. Though data sharing is common in the health industry and can lead to better care, the lawmakers voiced concerns about the protection of this information in the face of potential data brokers and hackers. Senators Welch and Warren also urged Amazon CEO, Andy Jassy, to clarify if the company uses customer data to promote or sell other Amazon products and services. They called for greater transparency about the company’s data practices and requested a sample contract between Amazon and third-party providers that care for Amazon Clinic enrollees.
The Senators’ statement suggested that Amazon’s decision to delay might signify the company’s serious consideration of their concerns about data collection and usage. Amazon has previously ventured into telemedicine with its Amazon Care business, which was closed at the end of 2022 after a brief stint offering telemedicine and in-home care. The proposed expansion of Amazon Clinic marks Amazon’s most recent attempt to penetrate the telemedicine market.