Retail Giants Jump in Healthcare Pool, Others Wait

Also featured: Getting more shots in arms, who’s using telemedicine, are supplements worthwhile and more

Editor’s note: Welcome to The PostScript Rewind, a biweekly recap of the latest in healthcare news. Featuring what you need to know — none of what you don’t.

What’s next for Amazon in healthcare? The tech giant could be prepping for a major expansion of a pilot program.

The health provider behind its virtual medical platform, Amazon Care, has quietly filed paperwork to expand into 17 more states. Currently, it only offers the medical services to Amazon staff in Washington. The move could signal a strategy for a much wider reach, even to general consumers.

In related news:

• Microsoft is rapidly expanding its presence in the healthcare field, after extending its cloud services into healthcare last year. The company has announced it will upgrade that platform with robust features to support virtual health, patient monitoring, care coordination and support for eight languages. Microsoft’s cloud update will be available in April and will streamline virtual experiences for patients.

• Highmark Health and its Google Cloud partnership are joining forces with Alphabet’s Verily to further expand its Living Health model. That platform seeks to re-imagine healthcare delivery with a more patient-centered approach.

• Pharmacy retail heavy-hitter Walgreens is expanding its digital health offerings so patients can try on glasses virtually, take an at-home COVID-19 test and access mental health services.

• Other companies, like Walmart and Best Buy, though, are slowing their efforts to make a splash in the market.

Getting more shots in arms

• Thanks to Merck’s agreement to aid in production of Johnson &Johnson’s newly approved vaccine, the U.S. should have enough shots for every adult by May. That news comes after Johnson & Johnson announced initial supplies of its vaccine could be scarce.

• Drugstore giants and big-box retailers are receiving vaccine allotments, but independent pharmacies say they can play a role in getting shots in arms, too.

• Meanwhile, rural folks who live in “pharmacy deserts” are finding it a challenge to access a vaccine.

• Retail chains like CVS and Walgreens are noting a perk from administering the shots — the massive data they can collect when customers sign up.

Who’s opting for telemedicine?

Not surprisingly, 2020 saw a huge uptick in telemedicine use. But a study shows use of the technology is highest among high earners with high levels of education.

Rx tip of the week

From multivitamins and minerals to probiotics, herbals and energy boosters, the choice of over-the-counter supplements is seemingly endless. Before adding one to your daily diet, here are some questions to ask your provider or pharmacist: Can this product help me and do I need it for my health? Does it have proven benefits? Any side effects? How much and how often should I take it? Is it OK to take it with my other medications? – Eric Wu, ScriptHero clinical pharmacist

This article was last updated March 19, 2021

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