Amazon reportedly has a secret healthcare team exploring new technology opportunities in healthcare, including both hardware and software projects, according to CNBC.
The experimental lab is headquartered in Seattle and named 1492, two sources familiar with the matter told CNBC. Its team of researchers is looking at ways to extract data from legacy EHRs to make that information available to patients and their physicians.
The group is also reportedly exploring building a platform for telemedicine and health applications on Amazon hardware, including its Echo and Dash Wand. The sources said it was not clear whether Amazon is developing any new health devices, but they would not rule it out.
Some team members, like project lead Cameron Charles, PhD, list their affiliation with the 1492 project on LinkedIn under the keyword “A1.492.”
“I can’t say anything about what we’re working on, but we’re hiring,” reads Dr. Charles’ profile.
The CNBC report follows other projects suggesting Amazon’s move into the healthcare industry, including the company’s reported hiring of Box executive Missy Krasner and its attempts to expand into the drug and medical supply distribution sector.
Amazon did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
The biggest payout — $863 million — went to John Martin, CEO of biotechnology company Gilead Sciences, according to the analysis. Other takeaways include:
Rising salaries are drawing increased scrutiny and some pushback. In April, North Carolina lawmakers approved a bill that would bar compensation for CEOs of behavioral health managed care organizations from exceeding by more than 30% the average salary of other behavioral health managed care businesses in the state. The bill seemed targeted at Cardinal Healthcare Innovations CEO Richard Topping, whose salary was $435,000 more than the average salary for a managed care organization in the state.
Salaries of executives at nonprofit organizations have also been growing. According to a Wall Street Journal report in March, many nonprofits are embracing salary strategies used in the for-profit world and offering packages totaling more than $1 million, with possibility of bonuses and deferred payments. In 2014, about 75% of nonprofit pay packages totaling $1 million or more went to healthcare executives.
In Massachusetts, in fact, pay for hospital CEOs outpaced state health spending. The largest compensation package went to Elizabeth Nabel, president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who received $5.4 million in 2014, up 119% from the previous year. By contrast, overall healthcare spending in Massachusetts rose 4.8% that year.
In an analysis earlier this year, Axios found that Sutter Health CEO Patrick Fry gets paid the most per patient stay ($6.88 a day) among the 20 largest hospital systems. Greenwich Hospital CEO Norman Roth earned the most ($56.40 a day) among other studied hospitals.
Perhaps few journalism organizations have tried harder to minimize conflicts of interest than the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ), the leading professional organization for journalists who report on health care.
The two of us know AHCJ well, having been members almost since its launch 20 years ago. We’ve both served on AHCJ’s board, attended most of its 18 annual conferences, and served on many panels as speakers or moderators over the years. Gary wrote the AHCJ’s Statement of Principles, which was adopted by the Board in 2004.
AHCJ states that its educational arm, the Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism, won’t take money from pharmaceutical companies, device makers, insurers or even most advocacy groups such as the American Cancer Society. That strict standard distinguishes AHCJ from some other journalism training organizations, which have no qualms about accepting money from companies that journalists routinely report on.
In fact, when AHCJ agreed to collaborate with the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ), which meets in San Francisco this fall, it raised its own money for a health care track “because the broader funding of the conference includes funders that we would not take money from,” AHCJ Executive Director Len Bruzzese told us. As noted in part one of this series, WCSJ accepted $400,000 in support from drug company Johnson & Johnson and another $50,000 from drug company Bayer. Each of the funders that AHCJ lists for its track at WCSJ is a philanthropic foundation. Bruzzese added: “There is easier money out there if you’re willing to take it from other organizations that may want to have more influence than we believe they should have on journalists.”
Ben Harder, a journalist with US News & World Report, recently tweeted, “Pharma ads subsidize many health reporters’ salaries.”
Elisabeth Rosenthal, who now heads Kaiser Health News after a long career with the New York Times, tweeted in that same discussion, “Many of my articles in the NYT carried pop-up ads for pharma. Infuriating.”
Many journalists are aware of the drug industry’s attempts to gain positive attention by buying placement within the nation’s health care news. A few occasionally write or talk about it, as Harder and Rosenthal did publicly.
But I don’t think we talk often enough about why it matters if health care industry entities are allowed to advertise within, or sponsor, health care journalism content. Americans spend more than $3 trillion on health care. Conflicts of interest in health care and research are rampant. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) last month published a special edition all about health care conflicts of interest. JAMA included a Viewpoint article entitled, “Conflict of Interest: Why Does it Matter?” The first line: “Preservation of trust is the essential purpose of policies about conflict of interest.”
But who talks about conflicts of interest in health care journalism? In a Gallup poll, “Honesty/Ethics in Professions,” respondents rated journalists’ honesty and ethical standards below psychiatrists, chiropractors and bankers….and just above lawyers.
There is great potential harm in a further erosion of trust in journalism and in health care. There is a great potential harm in journalists – and the audience they serve – becoming numb to the presence of and influence of drug companies and other industry entities in the news and information disseminated to the public. There is, as we have begun to point out repeatedly in our review of news stories and PR news releases, advertising and marketing messages, often a polluted stream of contaminated information reaching the public. Often vested interests pollute that stream. (We will discuss these potential harms in more detail in part 3 of this series.)
That’s why I think that this issue demands and deserves a deeper dive. Why now? Because, as outlined in this series, there are a growing number of questionable alliances between a growing number of news organizations and health care industry sponsors. Money is exchanging hands and I ask “Why? Why do news organizations enter into these arrangements? Why do they feel they need to? Have they exhausted all other options?” I want to shine a light on a collection of news organization practices. I’m raising the same types of questions that journalists often raise as they report on various issues. But I’m asking them because I don’t see enough journalists talking about it when their own organizations accept industry money.