Amazon’s acquisition deal with One Medical raises patient privacy concerns

In a nearly $4 billion deal, Amazon plans to buy One Medical, a primary care group with nearly 200 locations across the country. Privacy advocates are voicing concerns about Amazon controlling people's online purchase data as well as their health care records. Erin Brodwin, health tech reporter at Axios, joins Geoff Bennett to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Geoff Bennett:

    It's a big business deal that's raising lots of questions about patient privacy. Amazon plans to buy the primary care group One Medical and a nearly $4 billion deal, adding to the growing list of the tech giants acquisitions and efforts to expand its footing in the healthcare industry.

    One Medical is a membership based primary care practice with nearly 200 locations across the country. And privacy advocates are already voicing concerns about Amazon controlling data about someone's online purchases and streaming content, as well as their health care records.

    For more on this Erin Brodwin, Health Tech reporter at Axios is with us. Erin, it's great to have you here.

    And as you will know, this is only the latest of Amazon's healthcare ventures that acquired the online pharmacy company PillPack back in 2018, that launched its own Amazon pharmacy and 2020. What does acquiring one medical represent for Amazon.

  • Erin Brodwin, Health Tech Reporter, Axios:

    I mean, as you said Amazon was already a powerful force in the healthcare space, this steel turbocharges all of their existing efforts in this space. It's really about three things the way I think about it, it's about scale. It's about hybrid primary care, and it's about entering the Medicare Advantage market.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    So you already have lots of one medical customers who are saying they're going to cancel the memberships because of this Amazon deal. They want no parts of this because of privacy concerns. What if any impact might that have on this acquisition on this deal?

  • Erin Brodwin:

    Yes, so I think that's a really important concern. Amazon does have a spotty track record when it comes to consumer privacy. I do want to point out though, that because it is acquiring One Medical, which is a medical provider, One Medical has to abide by HIPAA, the Health Information and Protection Act. So it has a lot of protected health information. But that shouldn't be, you know, violated for any reason that I know of.

    In terms of Amazon's track record, though, there are instances in which the company has given broad swaths of its global workforce latitude to tap into consumer data. I mean, 44 percent of U.S. residents use Prime that is a crazy amount, especially considering that the largest healthcare system in America HCA only has access to approximately 1 percent of U.S. residents. Amazon knows what you're buying, what pills you take, and it can guide your decisions to buy and when and we'll probably use those in terms of healthcare.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Well, let's talk more about that and sort of take a big picture. Look at this. Is there a tradeoff between people having both convenience and privacy?

  • Erin Brodwin:

    Yes, I think there definitely is a tradeoff. I think it's very easy to sit here and say, you know, I don't want this, I don't want Amazon in my life, or I don't want Google in my life, or I don't want Apple in my life. The fact of the matter is we use these companies for so much and they are so ever present in our lives. That saying, OK, because of this decision, I'm no longer going to have this tech company present in my life. I'm just going to cut them out.

    I just don't think that's particularly doable. I remember a lot of my friends, for example, when Google acquired Fitbit, they said they were going to, you know, abandon their Fitbits. And to this day, I know zero people who have done it.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    That's marketing 101, right. There's always this disconnect between what people say they're going to do and what they actually will do. This acquisition is part of a larger trend of big tech companies trying to expand their footprint into healthcare. What accounts for that, and what's the expected impact?

  • Erin Brodwin:

    I mean, I still remember it was just a couple years ago, when Tim Cook at Apple said Apple's biggest impact on society was going to be in healthcare. And I think that's kind of what set all these big tech companies on this big race to get into this space.

    I mean, healthcare is a $4 trillion industry. It is huge. Google is here. Apple is here. Amazon is here and so many other big tech companies.

    I would say prior to this acquisition there was a really tight race between all these companies as to who was going to dominate and healthcare the deal hasn't closed yet so I'm not trying to get ahead of myself here.

    But post acquisition. I mean, I think this puts Amazon in the clear lead, it's definitely going to set all these other companies efforts to warp speed as well. But again, I'd say Amazon does have a little bit of a lead.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    The Amazon and One Medical say this deal will make things more convenient for those using healthcare services. Amazon also says this acquisition will help make health care more accessible to people who haven't had access to it. So will Amazon's expansion here make health care more accessible more and more broadly available?

  • Erin Brodwin:

    I'd love to say the answer is yes. But unfortunately, I do not have any current evidence to support that theory. I say that only because Amazon's efforts in healthcare so far have been largely directed at the worried well, and so have One Medical's. They largely serve people who are fairly affluent, fairly wealthy, and want what they call concierge medical care.

    I will say Amazon had one effort that was targeted at the working class it had a partnership still has a partnership with a company called crossover health care and so they have clinics set up with them near Amazon warehouses. It remains to be seen how this deal will impact those I definitely will have my eyes peeled for that. But I don't think I don't see this deal is about equity or accessibility to be to be honest.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    All right, Erin Brodwin covers health tech issues for Axios. It's great to speak with you. Thanks for your time.

  • Erin Brodwin:

    Thanks so much for having me.

Listen to this Segment