Healthcare spending must be run like a business, Athenahealth chairman says

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Chief executives from all industries must start operating employee health benefits and healthcare spending like a business, Jeff Immelt, former GE CEO and chairman of Athenahealth, said at Fortune's Brainstorm Health conference on April 3.

"One of the failures of the U.S. healthcare system is that employers haven't been very good purchasers of healthcare," Mr. Immelt said. But if these efforts are run like a business, "that will be a catalyst … for how world change gets made."

During his tenure at GE, Mr. Immelt saw the company's spending on healthcare increase 7 percent over more than two decades. It took the financial crisis in 2008 for the CEO to recognize the spending problems, he said.

To make the giant changes healthcare spending needs to see, it has to start in the corner office, Mr. Immelt said.

"It has to start with the CEO," he said.

Mr. Immelt suggested altering company benefits, negotiating and analyzing the spread of costs between patients in different cities. He also  supports using technology and artificial intelligence as a healthcare spending solution, but he stressed the importance of fixing smaller problems, like administrative costs and outdated CT scans.

"That's where people get lost in healthcare — applying the tools to the most fundamental cases that are really going to make a difference," Mr. Immelt said.

"If every CEO in the country would stand down for, like two days, and actually have their benefits people talk about how the benefits actually happen, how contracting actually happens," the healthcare industry could be changed, Mr. Immelt said.

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