Picking Atul Gawande to lead the Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s new healthcare venture is a move worthy of the hype the partnership has drawn. That’s what Shandon Fowler, owner and principal of benefits and HR tech consulting firm Four8 Insights, had to say about the appointment.
“It shows they are serious about keeping the individual — patient, employee, consumer, etc. — at the center of their work and solutions,” Fowler says. “The leader is not the whole team and it’s going to take a lot of the best and brightest to be successful, but it’s a phenomenal, surprising move.”
Gawande, a surgeon and journalist who has written extensively about America’s failure to grapple with an inefficient healthcare system, is seen as a thought leader — who thinks outside of the box — and is passionate about fixing what ails the healthcare system.
Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, says complementing his talent with strong business and operations people is critical to making this endeavor a success.
“What’s intriguing about this group with Dr. Gawande’s leadership is the possibility of innovation, tech and a consumer focus coming together to transcend the challenges with the healthcare ecosystem,” Marcotte says.
Fowler echoes Marcotte, saying he cannot imagine Gawande would have taken the job had he thought he was just giving Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorganChase a competitive advantage on their healthcare benefits.
“For all of his strengths, Gawande seems to have excelled mostly at being ‘the guy’ — surgeons and author/journalists are more frequently ‘talents’ than ‘managers,’” Fowler says. “My inclination is that the venture still needs a COO who’s as passionate and driven to stay the course through incredible industry resistance and counter-productive politics as Gawande is passionate about using data to make positive change.”
Fowler adds that he once heard Gawande at a conference give an analogy of how meteorology was transformed by agriculture under a generation 100 years ago by the newfound ability to use communication advances, combined with data tracking, to build more accurate weather forecasting, which in turn increased crop yields and reduced costs and labor.
“It’s that kind of deep, lateral, collaborative thinking that it’s going to take for Gawande to succeed,” Fowler says. “But he’s as capable of that success as anyone they could have found.”
While it’s too early to tell the direction this endeavor will take, Marcotte says he — along with the rest of the NBGH — applaud the group’s effort and long-term view.
“New entrants with fresh approaches like these may be just the prescription our ailing healthcare system needs,” he says. “This industry is ripe for disruption and the collective resources of these three companies, coupled with Amazon’s customer obsession and supply chain savvy, could potentially create a more consumer-focused model that will transcend the fragmented, provider-centric delivery system that we have today.”
Brokers, such as Craig Lack, president of Energi Insurance Services based in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., say the healthcare industry needs an objective differential diagnosis and a new equilibrium that serves the conscious consumer, the patient and the provider in a far more equitable manner.
"We can all hope that Dr. Gawande's experience in dealing with the humanity of people in need will inspire him to transform not only the complexity of disparate providers, but also act as a catalyst for the elimination of the information asymmetries pervasive throughout the healthcare system," Lack says. "The $3.4 trillion healthcare industry suffers from an epidemic of analog business models that promote resistance, fight change and can't update in real time while the rest of the world has gone digital."
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