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Analysis

Amazon's Healthcare Venture: Game-Changer or 'Passion Project'?

By John Commins  
   June 20, 2018

Leaders react to the announcement that Boston-based surgeon, professor, and journalist Atul Gawande, MD, will serve as CEO of the retail giant's joint project with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase.

Initial reactions to the news that Atul Gawande, MD, has been named CEO of the joint healthcare venture being launched by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase was mostly enthusiastic.

Those who praised Gawande's appointment noted the thought leadership in his books and essays, as well as his hands-on experience helping U.S. health systems and international organizations innovate. Those who remained skeptical suggested the buzz may be overhyped.

"So we're officially running a passion project here not a business," Craig Garthwaite, associate professor of strategy and director of the Health Enterprise Management Program at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, wrote in a series of tweets Wednesday.

Garthwaite took particular issue with the fact that Gawande will retain his positions as a practicing surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital and a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School.

"This cannot be emphasized enough ... if the Amazon/Berkshire/Morgan venture is going to transform healthcare it will probably need a full time CEO. Unless CEO means something else in a 'disruptive' firm," Garthwaite wrote.

Related: Atul Gawande Named CEO of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, JPMorgan Healthcare Initiative

Others, however, expressed confidence in Gawande's ability to assemble a team to serve not only the employees of the companies behind this initiative but also to prompt wider spread change across the healthcare industry.

  • Marc Harrison, MD, president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare: "With his outstanding skills and expertise, I believe he can help identify and implement solutions to help address the critical issue of the cost of care in this country," Harrison told HealthLeaders Media.
     
  • Bunny Ellerin, director of the Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Management Program at Columbia Business School: "This choice is brilliant," Ellerin said in a statement. "Dr. Gawande embodies exactly what we want in healthcare—a practicing physician with compassion, empathy and a patient-centered philosophy. He is someone who believes that we can do better and deliver improved healthcare if we focus on what’s important to the individual patient and to society more broadly."
     
  • Halee Fischer-Wright, MD, president and CEO of the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA): "This new venture has the potential to develop interesting new innovations for our industry that can help bring us closer to the medical practice model of the future, one that improves care while cutting costs," Fischer-Wright said in a statement. "We look forward to working with Dr. Gawande to realize that vision."
     
  • Donald M. Berwick, MD, a former administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services: Rather than a mere think tank, this will be "a do-tank," Berwick told The Boston Globe. "It's an activist move by organizations that really do want to make a change, and they have picked a leader in Atul Gawande who is almost uniquely capable of crafting the changes that are going to be need."

Andy Slavitt, another former CMS administrator, said Amazon and its partners made two wise long-term decisions Wednedsay.

"They set their health care effort up as a non-profit and aim to avoid profit making as an incentive. And they appointed public health expert, author & compassionate progressive physician to head it in @Atul_Gawande," Slavitt wrote in a tweet.

Editor's note: HealthLeaders Media senior news editor Steven Porter contributed to this report.

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.


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