Amazon health care company announces CEO

Nameless but in the News

The new health care company launched by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase continues to remain nameless, but now it has a prominent CEO. On Wednesday the companies announced that Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who teaches at Harvard’s medical and public health schools, will become the chief executive officer of the new organization July 9, reported Andrew Joseph in STAT.

The new company is going to be based in Boston, which will make it convenient for Gawande to continue his positions there. He will also keep writing, including for the New Yorker, but he will give up his position as executive director and become chairman of Ariadne Labs, which focuses on solutions to problems in health systems globally.

Gawande said, “I have devoted my public health career to building scalable solutions for better healthcare delivery that are saving lives, reducing suffering, and eliminating wasteful spending both in the US and across the world. Now I have the backing of these remarkable organizations to pursue this mission with even greater impact for more than a million people, and in doing so incubate models of care for all.”

He added, “This new health care organization represents one of the most promising opportunities to accelerate improvement of US health care delivery. The work will be difficult and take time, but it must be done.”

The company was created to solve the health care costs for the employees of the companies involved, but its founders want to develop solutions that could be used throughout the entire U.S. health care system. Critics think the health care system is too complex for universal solutions.

Gawande, who wrote an article in the New Yorker in 2009 about the wide divergence in Medicare expenditures and how additional spending failed to lead to better quality, wants doctors and hospitals to join forces “to increase prevention and the quality of care, while discouraging overtreatment, undertreatment, and sheer profiteering.” He authored an article called “The heroism of incremental care,” about how small, regular interventions could lead to better outcomes than grand, rare, lifesaving interventions.

More coordinated care could lead to cost savings and better results, according to Gawande, who said, “We’re all specialists now, even the primary care physicians. Everyone just has a piece of the care. But holding onto that structure we built around the daring, independence, self-sufficiency of each of those people has become a disaster. We want the best drugs, the best technologies, the best specialists, but we don’t think too much about how it all comes together. It’s a terrible design strategy actually.”

Gawande believes that checklists could help to reduce medical errors while cutting costs. He recommends a 19-item checklist that was adopted by the World Health Organization as a global standard of care in 2008 and shown to cut the rates of death and complications after non-cardiac surgeries in eight hospitals in eight countries in a 2009 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Gawande also champions rethinking the approach to end-of-life care and expanding health care coverage.  Above all, he wants to develop collaborations that can create meaningful change.