Primary care challenges

My mom was recently dealing with a health issue and did what we all do: She called her primary care doctor and made an appointment for the first spot available on the schedule.

After waiting several days to get in, she then spent what felt like even longer waiting alone in an exam room for an exam that never ended up happening. Why? She waited so long that she eventually gave up and walked out.

A day later the doctor called to apologize and then a week later she was back for the appointment, ultimately spending far too much time on an issue that a quick prescription resolved.

It’s an extreme example of the inconvenience of traditional care, but we’ve all been there in one way or another.

Amazon, One Medical, and frustration-free care

So when I read the news of Amazon closing its deal to acquire One Medical for $3.9 billion, I joined the rest of the world in speculating if the move might change the playing field for good. Could “frustration-free primary care” truly exist—and, more importantly, at scale?

Today, One Medical is a membership-based, tech-integrated primary care platform that operates 188 clinics in 29 markets. It leans into the tech part, too, providing care access via its app as well as 24/7 virtual services. For in-person visits, One Medical provides same- and next-day appointments as well as walk-in, on-site laboratories in its community-based offices.

And it all sounds radically different than what my mom and many of us have experienced.

In fact, we ran this as a pull quote in our last issue, when the news broke at press time, and I’ll repeat it here: “If you fast forward 10 years from now, people are not going to believe how primary care was administered,” said Amazon CEO Andy Jassy in a press release on the acquisition.

Future of primary care design

It’s a big promise, and not everyone is buying it. This isn’t Amazon’s first foray into healthcare, but what this move does give the retail giant is an existing model that seems to be working—particularly when it comes to employer participation (One Medical works with 8,000 companies).

But, still, the One Medical of today is a boutique care provider with nowhere near the number of sites as the retail clinics of CVS and Walgreens, for example. (CVS even upped the ante recently with the acquisition of Oak Street Health, a value-based primary care provider focused on delivering healthcare to older adults in underserved communities. The scalable model currently includes 169 medical centers.)

But pundits anticipate Amazon should be able to scale quickly.

As the ongoing evolution of primary care continues to unfold, the speculation on this side of the coin is that perhaps one day soon, the bulk of your project work really will be mostly acute, as more and more care is delivered virtually and physical clinics are templated and rapidly reproduced without much design.

Will this be what solidifies the shift? One Medical memberships are on sale now, and it’s feeling a lot like Prime Day.

Jennifer Kovacs Silvis is editor-in-chief of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at