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March 23, 2018

Are Amazon and AARP teaming up to take on health care?

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    Amazon has been meeting with AARP since 2015 to discuss a potential collaboration to develop health care technology for elderly people, though it's unclear exactly what could result from the discussions, CNBC reports.

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    Babak Parviz, Amazon's VP of special projects, broke the company's usual silence about its future health care projects at an event in New York City last month. "Something … we've been building for some period of time and we deeply care about … relates to what happens to older people," he said. "We have looked at the older population in the context of health ... and we know this group has a lot of issues and unmet needs."

    Parviz, who according to CNBC is best known for creating Google Glass, joined Amazon in 2014 after leaving Google X.

    AARP offered only an oblique comment on its reported collaboration with Amazon, saying, "As part of our mission to be everyday innovators in aging, we meet regularly with other innovators that may be able to improve the lives of older Americans." Amazon did not respond to CNBC's request for comment.

    The opportunity for any technology that results from the collaboration could be huge. According to a 2016 Technology Market Overview Report, the market for technology to assist elderly people will surpass $30 billion within the next several years.

    What a collaboration might look like

    Although little is known about what could result from any Amazon-AARP collaboration, one possibility centers on the company's Echo devices and its smart voice assistant, Alexa. AARP already has developed apps—called "skills"—for Alexa-enabled devices that provide targeted news briefings.

    Separately, Amazon in 2017 collaborated with Merck on a competition to create Alexa skills designed to assist patients with diabetes—perhaps illuminating how the company will expand Alexa's health care features over time.

    A person familiar with Amazon and AARP's meetings told CNBC that Amazon asked about the size of their market and whether elderly people and their caregivers trusted Amazon over other vendors. Amazon also asked about the technological needs of elderly people (Farr, CNBC, 3/20; Paavola, Becker's Health IT & CIO Report, 3/20).

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