Author: Sara Habibipour
Amazon--the world’s online retail giant owned by multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos.
You probably use it quite often to get almost anything you need; groceries, clothing, and technology can all be purchased and delivered to your front door in a timely manner through Amazon’s delivery service.
Thought it couldn’t get any more convenient?
Well, after years of speculation, the company bought online pharmacy PillPack in 2018, officially stepping into the pharmaceutical industry. With PillPack, Amazon has now acquired pharmacy licenses in nearly all 50 states. That’s right, with “Amazon Pharmacy” Prime members can now purchase drugs to be delivered to their doorstep.
Sounds great, right? Well, maybe.
There are some concerns regarding patient privacy and health equity.
Similar to all of your other shopping history, Amazon Pharmacy can now track your conditions, your medications, and when you last filled them. That in itself isn’t too bad, but what can they do with this information that might potentially be harmful? Peter Winkelstein, executive director of the Institute for Healthcare Informatics at the University at Buffalo in New York, said in an interview with the LA Times, “At this point, we have no idea what’s going to happen when you tell Amazon that you need a certain medication. The only thing that seems fair to say is that they’re going to monetize this information any way they can.”
Amazon thrives off of the data your search-history generates and uses those data algorithms to produce advertisements specific to you; “it can suggest with alarming accuracy purchases of things you may not even have known you wanted” (LA Times). For example, after searching up ADHD medications on Amazon Pharmacy, the algorithm could then start showing advertisements for fidget spinners, kinetic sand, and other “ADHD toys.” The concern here is that with the addition of Amazon Pharmacy, people’s mental and physical health are being played upon to benefit multi-billion dollar corporations; people’s health is being used to drive capitalism on a whole new level.
There’s a lot of unknowns. But, because of the possible threats to patient privacy that are arising with this new form of pharmacy/healthcare, some experts are saying that we need a more comprehensive privacy law in the United States.
85% of Amazon Prime’s 100M members say they’d buy drugs from Amazon (MedVantx).
Based off of the results of this survey, there will definitely be greater accessibility to drugs. But, who are the people with Amazon Prime memberships?
Most likely, middle and upper class households. You can’t expect for a family living below the poverty line to pay $119 a year for an online membership. And even though Amazon says they will sell drugs for cheaper than normal prices, you can’t even expect for the lower-class population to have a reliable address for Amazon to ship drugs to.
Although Amazon isn’t directly creating new problems, they are definitely highlighting the pre-existing inequities seen in a country rooted in capitalism. Amazon has definitely made the middle and upper classes’ lives more convenient, but there’s still burning issues of health equity that this new system will only continue to invoke.
The Future of the Healthcare and the Pharmaceutical Industry
No doubt, Amazon’s entry into the healthcare and pharmacy marketplace is just the latest development in the rapidly changing landscape of the pharmaceutical industry (MedVantx).
Knowing the concerns mentioned above, should we try and prevent Amazon Pharmacy from becoming a pharmaceutical monopoly? Or is this just the way of the future? What do you think? The comments are open for you all to discuss.
This is really interesting although, a bit disturbing somehow?? I understand the convenience of having medicine delivered to your doorstep, I know some pharmacies like CVS already started doing this during COVID, but I feel there can be so many ethical concerns with this. For one, how will it be ensured that the right people get the right medication? I already know someone who received someone else's medication on accident because it got delivered to the wrong address. For some essential medications, this can be life threatening. Also, maybe this is more personal but I would be uncomfortable with Amazon having that kind of information about me readily available.
This is interesting news. On one hand, this service is beneficial because it provides individuals with the medication they need in a timely manner. Amazon shipping is fast-- and although concentrating so many markets in the company could arguably give them too much control over too many industries-- there's no doubt that this will help many to be physically healthier. Is privacy a greater concern? Maybe not. But we should still keep this in mind-- ethically, it's not really right.