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Primary Care Innovator Steps into Atul Gawande's Shoes at Ariadne Labs

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   April 25, 2019

Asaf Bitton, MD, has been selected to lead the Boston-based innovation program and will expand the strategy to focus on dysfunctional systems in healthcare.

Asaf Bitton, MD, MPH, a Harvard professor and Brigham and Women's Hospital primary care physician, has been named executive director of Ariadne Labs, stepping into the footprints of Atul Gawande, MD, MPH, who now serves as chairman of the Ariadne Labs Governance Council in addition to his duties as CEO of Haven, the Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase health care organization.

Ariadne Labs, which is a joint innovation initiative between Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, announced Bitton's appointment in a news release this week. His selection was the culmination of a national search led by Gawande in concert with Brigham Health President Betsy Nabel, MD, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Dean Michelle Williams, ScD.

Bitton is no stranger to the realm of innovation. The 41-year-old public health expert has served as director of the Ariadne Labs Primary Health Care Program since 2014. In an interview conducted with Ariadne Lab's communications director, Bitton spoke about a new strategic direction for the Lab:

"Our first five years were about building a core set of clinical programs and platforms that address targets at critical moments in people’s lives," said Bitton. "We have made some great bets there, and exceeded our expectations. People come here to participate in a community that is dynamic, supportive, and taking on huge problems as a whole—that’s a big shift from the usual mode of business and a big risk. It’s born out with amazing success and a strong culture that has built a foundation for innovation and impact."

"At Ariadne Labs," he continued, "we are making a transition. We have learned that we can act successfully at … critical moments in healthcare practice, but if the larger systems are fragmented or dysfunctional, we also need to expose that and provide solutions that act in concert. We are building on Atul’s vision. As a primary care physician trained and oriented toward populations and systems, I will take on this mantle and expand it. We can bring this 'systems lens' to the new challenges that have emerged in order to continue to advance our goal of reducing suffering."

"Asaf is the ideal next leader for Ariadne Labs," said Gawande in the release. "He has a big heart, big ideas, and demonstrated capacity for big impact. Ariadne Labs is an engine of innovation and discovery for health systems change, and we could not be more excited to pass the keys to Asaf."

The release cited many of Bitton's accomplishments, including:

  • He has served as a senior advisor to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation since 2012, developing a national demonstration project to transform care delivery and payment models. "Today, it has expanded into Medicare's largest primary care initiative, known as Comprehensive Primary Care Plus, with 13,000 clinicians in nearly 3,000 practices serving 15 million patients across 18 regions in the U.S.," according to the release.
  • In his role at Ariadne Labs, Bitton has been a leader of the Primary Health Care Performance Initiative, launched in 2015 at the United Nations by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization to strengthen primary health care systems worldwide.
  • He has collaborated with international health leaders to build novel health system innovations in Estonia, China, and Ghana. He also is a technical leader for a global Joint Learning Network of 10 countries working to strengthen integrated health care service delivery.
  • As faculty lead for transformation strategy and design at the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care, he spearheaded the Academic Innovation Collaborative, a 19-clinic, $14 million, two-year effort to transform 20 academic primary care teaching practices affiliated with Harvard into patient-centered medical homes. The initiative resulted "in improved staff and trainee experience, as well as reduced emergency room and hospital utilization among chronically ill patients," according to the release. In addition, he was a founding member of a Harvard-Stanford collaboration that has used microsimulation and other techniques in a dozen studies quantifying the value of primary care and better ways of paying for it.
  • As a practicing physician at Brigham Health, Bitton helped found South Huntington Advanced Primary Care Associates, a team-based, primary care practice serving patients with complex psychosocial and clinical needs. The practice, which opened in 2010, is a patient-centered medical home and was cited in the Annals of Family Medicine as one of 23 high performing practices in the U.S.

Bitton's research has addressed international tobacco control policy, the global burden of chronic disease, and U.S. healthcare payment reform, resulting in more than 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals. He holds a bachelor's degree in health and society from Brown University, a medical degree from University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, and a master's degree in public health from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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