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Amazon rolled out a new medication management feature for its Alexa users that will allow customers of Giant Eagle Pharmacy, a regional pharmacy chain in the Midwest and East Coast, to set medication reminders and order refills using the voice assistant.
The e-commerce goliath teamed up with California-based autonomous pharmacy company Omnicell to enable the new features, which were inspired by current consumer habits and user feedback. Though Amazon was mum on how voice-enabled med management could be integrated with its other healthcare initiatives, like the recently rebranded PillPack by Amazon Pharmacy, Alexa’s new skill seems like a perfect supplement to Amazon’s current e-pharmacy efforts.
Regular medication reminders from Alexa could go a long way toward solving millennials’ issues with adherence. Less than half of people between the ages of 20 and 44 use their prescribed diabetes medication at least 80% of the time, according to a 2017 report from Express Scripts.
However, voice assistants have the potential to dramatically improve patients’ medication adherence through regular reminders, as evidenced by the work of Miami-based EliteHealth and voice assistant startup Care Angel: After 90 days, EliteHealth and Care Angel observed 91% adherence from patients, a 63% reduction in readmissions, and secured nearly $500,000 in savings thanks to weekly calls from a medical voice assistant. More regular check-ins from an Alexa smart home device could potentially result in even greater savings and improvements in patient health outcomes.
And if Amazon one day integrates similar med management tools with PillPack, it could rapidly grow its marketshare by turning every Alexa-enabled device into a voice-powered pharmacy. Amazon sent shockwaves through the pharmacy world after acquiring digital pharmacy PillPack for $753 million in 2018, but the company has since faced significant legal challenges from rivals who are likely eager for anything that can delay or undermine the company’s impact on the $313 billion US pharmacy space.
And it makes sense why legacy pharmacies might feel threatened: New generations of young, tech-savvy consumers have a demand for fast and convenient healthcare services, and they possess little to no brand loyalty — making them prime targets for Amazon’s pharmacy efforts. Young people also make up the largest demographic of Amazon Echo owners, with 24% of Echo owners falling between the ages of 18-29 and nearly 50% of users landing under the age of 45.
Amazon’s foothold with younger demographics could make a combined Alexa-PillPack medication platform serious threat to the future of traditional pharmacies. We’re unlikely to see major competitors like CVS or Walgreens releasing an Alexa app, as they would likely want to keep their customers out of their competitions’ ecosystem as much as possible.
But for smaller, regional pharmacies like Giant Eagle, which will probably never have the capital necessary to develop their own e-pharmacy platforms to compete with Amazon, introducing Alexa-powered med management features could help them stand out from other brick-and-mortar competitors in the near-term. And that’s why we expect to see more regional pharmacies roll out Alexa apps in the coming year.
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