After months of speculation, Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway announced the CEO of their new health venture Wednesday.
The company will be led by surgeon and Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Atul Gawande and will be headquartered in Boston, an unsurprising choice given the city’s expertise in medicine and biotechnology. None of the three founding companies are headquartered in the Boston area, which gives the city the advantage of being neutral ground.
Amazon, JPMorgan and Berkshire also clarified that the new venture is indeed a company, not a nonprofit as some had speculated. However, it will “operate as an independent entity that is free from profit-making incentives and constraints,” the companies said.
Aside from his work in the clinic and the classroom, Gawande is also an outspoken advocate for widespread changes to the healthcare system to address inefficiencies and high costs.
Until his new appointment, he was the founding executive director for Ariadne Labs, a nonprofit that aims to create scalable health solutions around major health events, like childbirth and major surgery. It is a joint venture between Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Gawande holds positions at both institutions.
A 2012 TED talk by Gawande titled “How do we heal medicine?” could almost have been the outline for his white paper on how to “fix the healthcare system,” something the three companies asked of every candidate for the CEO position.
In the talk, Gawande said the healthcare system needs to be more than its component parts: It needs an actual system and structure to make it run more efficiently. He described his vision as healthcare becoming a “pit crew” working together as a whole, versus a collection of “cowboys” blazing their own independent paths.
“Having great components is not enough, and yet we’ve been obsessed in medicine with components,” he said. “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.”
A large part of that vision is relying on data to help broaden the viewpoint of doctors and others in the system.
“When you are a specialist, you can’t see the end result very well. You have to become really interested in data, unsexy as that sounds,” Gawande said.
It’s easy to see why his approach was appealing to the leaders of the venture, particularly Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. The idea of using data to make a system work together as a whole has the distinct ring of the innovation economy.
On the other hand, Bezos is notoriously skeptical of regulation and oversight, something that Gawande’s approach seems to call for.
“We said at the outset that the degree of difficulty is high and success is going to require an expert’s knowledge, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation,” Bezos said in a press release. “Atul embodies all three, and we’re starting strong as we move forward in this challenging and worthwhile endeavor.”