"I'm an Amazon patient now."

Emergency Bot

Amazon's ruthless efficiency is taking hold in the healthcare industry. In 2022, it acquired the primary care service One Medical for $3 billion. Since then, The Washington Post reports, patients and employees have complained about shorter appointments, fewer staff, and increasingly sparse services.

In keeping with the times, Amazon is also pivoting One Medical's services to a more telehealth-based model, taking on more new customers than its limited physical locations can provide.

It may have a high-tech solution for that. According to WaPo, Amazon is training an AI chatbot to triage patient messages, potentially meaning that whether or not someone gets immediate care for an urgent medical inquiry will come down to the questionable decision-making of a large language model. Amazon declined to confirm these AI plans to the paper, but if true it joins a worrying trend of the tech being used in medical scenarios despite its dubious reliability.

Patients Please

One of the healthcare providers heavily affected by the Amazon takeover is Iora, a subsidiary of One Medical. Rebranded to One Medical Seniors, it was quickly hit with huge staff cuts after the acquisition. Between it and Amazon Pharmacy, the two companies lost hundreds of employees.

Before Iora rebranded under Amazon's takeover, patient Deborah Wood said that its doctors responded to her calling about worrying heart symptoms in the middle of the night by calling her back "every 30 minutes to make sure I was okay."

Now, she sometimes doesn't get phone calls back for days. Instead of reaching a doctor on the other end of the line, she goes through a call center. "I'm an Amazon patient now," she told WaPo.

Customer Dissatisfaction

Among the many jobs eliminated in the layoffs were front desk roles. Now, calls and messages are routed to a centralized system called Mission Control, which according to WaPo was immediately overwhelmed with patient inquiries after the front desk roles were eliminated at Iora.

But soon, patients might be lucky if they deal with the stifling bureaucracy of a call center. Though Amazon didn't confirm its plans to use an AI to triage patients, One Medical told WaPo, as paraphrased by the paper, that "it is always investing in technology that can reduce the time health-care providers spend on administrative tasks."

And that non-denial should worry you. Aside from the fact that AI chatbots often confuse fact with fiction, they're often not very good at their namesake — that is, chatting. That's especially true in customer service settings, in many cases making promises that the employer cannot keep, or just lying about company policy.

With all that in mind, there's good reason to be skeptical about letting generative AIs be used in the healthcare in this capacity, that is, as a filter between doctors and patients.

More on chatbots: Microsoft Says Copilot's Alternate Personality as a Godlike and Vengeful AGI Is an "Exploit, Not a Feature"

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