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Is Amazon Ready To Protect Patient Data?

Posted on July 6, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Late last month, a Connecticut woman found out that a third-party Amazon vendor she had done business with had exposed her personal medical data to the world, including her medical conditions, along with her name, birthdate and emergency contact information.

The story suggests that Amazon engaged in a bit of bureaucratic foot shuffling when called on the privacy lapse. According to the woman, an Amazon call center rep told her it would investigate the issue, but a further email told her they would not be able to release the outcome of this investigation. It’s little wonder she wasn’t satisfied.

Ultimately, it appears that she was only able to get immediate action once she contacted the third-party seller, which took the photos containing the information down promptly upon her request.

Though no small matter for the woman involved, the episode means little for the future of Amazon, in and of itself. However, it does suggest that the marriage of Amazon technology and healthcare data may pose unexpected problems.

For those who have been sleeping under a rock, in late June Amazon announced that it had acquired online pharmacy PillPack for what reports say was just under $1 billion. PillPack, which competes with services delivered by giants like CVS, lets users buy their meds in pre-made doses. News stories suggest that Amazon beat out fellow retail giant Walmart in making the buy, which should close the second half of this year.

Without a doubt, this was a banner day in the history of Amazon, which has officially stamped into healthcare in 10-ton boots. The deal could not only mark the beginning of new era for the retailer, but also the healthcare industry, which hasn’t yet seen a tech company take a lead in any consumer-facing healthcare business.

That being said, perhaps a more important question for readers of this publication is how it will manage data generated by PillPack, a store likely to grow exponentially as Amazon integrates the online pharmacy into its ecosystem.

While there are obviously many good things its staggering fulfillment and logistics capabilities can bring to PillPack, Amazon’s otherwise amazing systems weren’t built to protect patient health information.

When it comes to most any other company, I’d imagine these problems could be addressed by layering HIPAA-compliant technologies and policies over its existing infrastructure. However, given the widely distributed nature of its retail network, it’s not just a matter of rethinking some architecture. Sealing off health data could require completely transforming its approach to doing business. Just about every retail transaction could prove a chink in its armor.

Since it wasn’t itself required to meet HIPAA standards in this instance, Amazon won’t get any flack from regulators over the recent PHI exposure. Still, issues like this could undercut the trust it needs to integrate PillPack into its core business successfully.

If nothing else, Amazon had better put a strong PHI protection policy in place on its retail side. Otherwise, it could undermine the business it just spent almost $1 billion to buy.

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Posted on February 28, 2014 I Written By

Kyle is CoFounder and CEO of Pristine, a VC backed company based in Austin, TX that builds software for Google Glass for healthcare, life sciences, and industrial environments. Pristine has over 30 healthcare customers. Kyle blogs regularly about business, entrepreneurship, technology, and healthcare at kylesamani.com.

There are an enormous number of startups trying to solve the medication adherence problem. Broadly speaking, these startups are trying to solve the problem through three avenues:

1) Hardware, i.e. smart pill bottles

2) Semi-intelligent software driven reminders

3) Patient education

The most effective solutions are likely to incorporate all three.

The hardware space has been the most interesting simply because of the variety of solutions cropping up. AdhereTech and CleverCap have developed unique pill bottles that control and monitor dispensing via proprietary smart pill bottles. They also incorporate software for notifications. Unfortunately, all smart pill bottle makers are bounded by FDA regulations because they physically control medications through a combination of hardware and software. FDA regulations will slow time rollout of these solutions to market and create enormous new expense.

I recently learned about PillPack, a startup that just raised $4M. They compete asymmetrically in the medication adherence by not making any hardware at all!

The problem with the pill bottle is that there are dozens of pills in a single container. Measuring and controlling output and consumption is intrinsically a difficult problem. PillPack solves these problems by simply averting the issue entirely. PillPack pre-packs pills by dose. This is particularly valuable because they pre-pack multiple kinds of medications that need to be taken at the same time.

PillPack doesn’t yet have any intelligent software that monitors when medications are taken. But with granular packaging, sensing and controlling the medications becomes dramatically easier than ever before. I suspect this will the marquee feature of PillPack 2.0. Once they add the ability to detect when a pack is opened, they can begin adding intelligent software alerts and reminders to patients and their families.

PillPack has a far more lucrative distribution strategy than companies who have to produce and distribute hardware. PillPack can scale their customer base incredibly quickly through B2C marketing. B2C marketing isn’t easy; Pillpack faces a significant challenge in terms of patient and provider education, but it’s one that’s definitely addressable. If PillPack’s service is as good as I think it is, they should develop incredibly happy customers, which will lead to recurring revenues and strong referrals.

The moment I saw Pillpack, I immediately recognized it as one of those “duh” business. We’re going to look back in 10 years and wonder why this wasn’t always around. Their solution solves so many of the pain points around taking medications on time and is coupled with a lucrative business model that feeds off of recurring revenues from long term customers.

The genius of their business is that they are tackling the medication adherence problem from a unique angle: packaging and distribution. They’ve bundled that solution into a simple and elegant package (pun intended) that helps patients avoid the pain of the modern US healthcare system: going to the pharmacy, fighting with the pharmacist, and manually tracking when to take how much of each medication.

Full disclosure: I have no relationship(s) with PillPack.