Could Amazon’s acquisition of PillPack promote antibiotic stewardship?

The Pharmacy OS tracking system could track antibiotics the same way healthcare providers want to track opioids.

Amazon.com’s interest in and willingness to invest in the healthcare space is evident by their joint venture with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan and their recent acquisition of PillPack, rumored to be around a $1 billion deal.

With PillPack, Amazon acquires the logistics operations needed to deliver prescriptions legally, quickly and efficiently. The PillPack acquisition also gives Amazon – already a big data juggernaut with expertise in forecasting consumer behavior – a new set of tools in PillPack’s Pharmacy OS. This system manages patient data, and helps PillPack prevent drug interactions and ensure patients are receiving safe doses of medicine.

Some of the social implications are evident. Misuse of, and addiction to, prescription opioids has reached epidemic levels, with dramatic increases in overdoses. Widespread use of a tracking system like Pharmacy OS certainly has the potential to identify specific cases where medication has been over-prescribed, as well as general trends.

But we wonder – in what other spaces can an entity with powerful analytics capabilities make a positive impact with the new data they’ll get from this acquisition?

This type of tracking system fits with a mission of antibiotic stewardship, as well. To reduce antibiotic resistance, it is critical to ensure that patients are taking the right medication at the right time – and that medicine is often not an antibiotic. CDC estimates that 30% of all antibiotic prescriptions, and 50% of those for acute respiratory conditions, were unnecessary.

With the PillPack acquisition, Amazon will be in possession of extensive data on where antibiotics are prescribed and to whom – with the power to correlate this data to purchase data (for customers who are prescribed antibiotics, are their purchases and on-site searches consistent with with viral infections like cold and flu?), publicly available data like regional flu hotspots, and other public datasets. In addition to sharing this information with their healthcare industry partners to support and encourage antibiotic stewardship by healthcare systems and providers, Amazon also has deep expertise in customer communications – making them uniquely qualified to deliver information to customers on the relevance of antibiotics, alternatives and how superbugs are created.

The adoption of new technology in health care often moves very slowly. Bill Gates recently said that the U.S. health care system is very complex and rife with misincentives — and we agree. We share a vision with the new venture from Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway that the healthcare industry needs to change to improve medical care. Xenex is committed to the hospitals it is helping today and the hospitals it will help in the future. The battle against superbugs is being fought on multiple fronts, and at Xenex we understand that our mission to support hospital disinfection is only one of them. We encourage Amazon to look at the ways this acquisition and their new health care initiatives can support public health, including the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Credit Rachael Sparks