Dr. Atul Gawande steps into Amazon, Berkshire, JPMorgan venture CEO role — 3 challenges he faces

Atul Gawande, MD, is slated to formally step into his role as chief executive of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase's healthcare company July 9. While he has written and spoken extensively about inefficiencies in the current healthcare system, the new role will have him putting those ideas into tangible plans of action for the first time in his career, according to CNBC.

The nonprofit company — announced by the trio of companies in January — aims to lower healthcare costs for their combined 1.2 million employees, and if successful, for the rest of the nation.

Some critics argue that while Dr. Gawande has written extensively about systemic issues, he has never been in a position to create tangible solutions until now. His new role will likely require him to negotiate with other players in the industry, like drugmakers and pharmacy benefit managers, among others, CNBC reports.

In recognition of Dr. Gawande's new position, STAT News compiled a list of five challenges he will likely face in his attempt to improve the system. Here are three challenges Dr. Gawande may encounter:

1. Controlling costs while improving quality. One of Dr. Gawande's biggest challenges, according to STAT, will be to introduce systemic changes that lower costs while improving the quality of care for the companies' 1.2 million employees. To succeed, Dr. Gawande will need to make it clear who he believes to be his "real boss" — the employees or the business leaders — and will need to set the tone early among patients who may be skeptical of the new company, according to STAT.

2. Lower hospital prices. To save patients money, Dr. Gawande must determine a way for them to receive lower prices for medical services. However, while Amazon and its partners are certainly influential, some critics claim they lack the concentration of employees in specific geographic regions to force hospitals to cut their prices, STAT reports. One way to do so would be to encourage other large employers to join the company's effort.

In some cases, patients seeking lower prices may be better served by avoiding large academic medical centers, which dominate local healthcare markets and charge the most for care, according to the report. Such a directive would run counter to the business interests of hospitals like Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital, a prominent institution affiliated with Harvard Medical School in Boston and where Dr. Gawande himself is a surgeon.

3. Combating chronic disease and variations in care. One of Dr. Gawande's challenges in his new role will be understanding the extent of chronic disease among the 1.2 million employees. STAT notes the new venture may help improve care and cut costs for chronic illness patients by standardizing treatment regimes and directing employees to providers with expertise in those areas of care. Amazon's role in the venture, in particular, can aid Dr. Gawande by providing machine learning software and other technologies to better predict the onset of disease and help provide preventive measures.

"The one major advantage that this combination has is Amazon and its IT capabilities and the network of consumers that Alexa touches," David Blumenthal, MD, president of the Commonwealth Fund, told STAT. "I would extend that well beyond the pharmaceutical market to begin to try to influence the decisions that consumers make with their clinicians about healthcare in a very personal way. That doesn't mean changing the way providers behave so much as it means changing the way consumers behave, making them smarter purchasers."

To access the STAT report, click here.

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