By Prarthana Mitra
A surgeon, a New Yorker columnist, and a MacArthur genius.
If Dr. Atul Gawande’s oeuvre was missing anything, his appointment as the CEO of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan’s new non-profit healthcare venture adds another prestigious feather to his cap.
The conferment of the position comes half a year after Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced a partnership to tackle rising health-care costs. Their choice on who will lead the firm may be unconventional, given Gawande’s inexperience in running a business, but prestigious publications all over the world agree that it is a conscientious one.
Born to Indian immigrant parents in the US and currently in residency as a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Gwande is also a professor in the department of health policy and management at Harvard School of Public Health. He also enjoys a prestigious position at the Harvard Medical School.
MORE: Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase announce the next step in their partnership on U.S. employee healthcare with the appointment of Dr. Atul Gawande as its CEO https://t.co/eG4llSau4k pic.twitter.com/sa7gHyivcc
— Bloomberg (@business) June 20, 2018
Gawande is the author of bestsellers such as the National Book Award finalist Complications, and Better which got picked up by Amazon as one of the best books of 2007. He is also a MacArthur fellow, a winner of the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science, and practically a household name both in India and abroad.
But what has that got to do with his latest accolade?
In a statement on June 20, Gawande said that the new Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway-backed venture presents before him, an opportunity wherein his vision to improve health care delivery aligned with the firms’ goal to reduce the ever-growing share of the economy taken up by health care. He pointed out that this was a mission that his parents, both doctors, also worked tirelessly on.
Outspoken about privatisation and increasing medical costs that make health care inaccessible to lower-income groups, Gawande had on one occasion said, “I have devoted my public health career, to building scalable solutions, for better health-care delivery that is saving lives, reducing suffering and eliminating wasteful spending both in the US and across the world.”
In the past, he has famously and effectively demonstrated that there is no correlation between price and quality when it comes to U.S. health care. To that end, he founded the Ariadne Labs which specialises in developing affordable health systems without raising risk. Today, Ariadne has touched millions of lives with a list of benefactors that includes Gates Foundation, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization.
The ABCs of running an upside-down organisation
Although the big reveal for the new mysterious organisation ABC (named after the initials of Amazon, Berkshire and Chase) has not happened yet, spokespersons have stated that its ultimate goal is national. The goal is to reduce the ever-growing share of the economy that’s taken up by healthcare costs by bringing conglomerates together and using salaried in-house caregivers to provide routine health services. There is no competition, no compulsion to bring in revenues or profits because there are none.
Clearly, this is not your typical start-up, which means Bezos, Buffett and Dimon were not looking for a typical CEO. According to Slate, it demands a leader with a deep understanding of the healthcare industry, and it wanted someone who has the respect of the entire profession.
Besides, Gawande will also have an opportunity to use the existing 1.2 million employees between the three companies, to treat and pre-empt common medical conditions, with the potential to generate enormous savings.
— Carl Quintanilla (@carlquintanilla) June 20, 2018
The global health-care mess can only be fixed by an insider, who knows what works. With the explicit goodwill and backing from three of the richest venture capitalists in America, a lot is resting on Gawande’s shoulders as he embarks on this journey. Whether it can disrupt US healthcare remains to be seen.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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