Atul Gawande, the doctor and writer, named CEO of Amazon’s employee healthcare JV

Amazon, BerkshireHathaway and JPMorgan Chase have not been especially public about their plans for how they plan to take on employee healthcare in the US with their new joint venture, but now they have announced a big move that could see all of that change. The trio have announced that Dr Atul Gawande, the noted writer, doctor and researcher, will be the first CEO of the as-yet unnamed company.

The business will be based in Boston, where Gawande is already based, and it will operate as an independent entity, “free from profit-making incentives and constraints.” Gawande will take on the role starting July 9.

“I’m thrilled to be named CEO of this healthcare initiative,” said Gawande in a statement. “I have devoted my public health career to building scalable solutions for better healthcare delivery that are saving lives, reducing suffering, and eliminating wasteful spending both in the US and across the world. Now I have the backing of these remarkable organizations to pursue this mission with even greater impact for more than a million people, and in doing so incubate better models of care for all. This work will take time but must be done. The system is broken, and better is possible.”

It’s not clear whether Gawande will be stepping down from all of his other positions, or if this will be added to what is already a roster that doesn’t seem possible for a single person to handle (and yet he does). Gawande is a surgeon, practicing general and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. He is a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, and he is an author of books, namely no less than four New York Times bestsellers: Complications, Better, The Checklist Manifesto, and Being Mortal. (He is one of my very favourite writers medical subjects; I recommend reading him if you do not already.) He’s also involved with medical companies like Ariadne.

We’ve asked Amazon about the name of the new company, and what this appointment will mean for the rest of Gawande’s roles.

Amazon, BerkshireHathaway and JPMorgan Chase are coming together in this JV to apply some of their private-sector and entrepreneurial knowledge to see how and if they can take a new approach to healthcare in the US. For those in the US, where private healthcare is the dominant norm, insurance is a central aspect of how people see doctors and get treatments and more serious medical interventions. And oftentimes that insurance comes through your workplace.

This system costs billions to maintain and is far from perfect. On top of that, there are many reasons to look closer at how the innovations in medicine today might be used to keep us healthier and avoid needing to go to doctors in the first place. The idea with this company, it seems, is to tie some of this together, to rethink how it works, and to see if there is a way forward by starting from scratch.

“We said at the outset that the degree of difficulty is high and success is going to require an expert’s knowledge, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation,” said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, in a statement. “Atul embodies all three, and we’re starting strong as we move forward in this challenging and worthwhile endeavor.”

“As employers and as leaders, addressing healthcare is one of the most important things we can do for our employees and their families, as well as for the communities where we all work and live. Together, we have the talent and resources to make things better, and it is our responsibility to do so. We’re so grateful for the countless statements of support and offers to help and participate, and we’re so fortunate to have attracted such an extraordinary leader and innovator as Atul,” added Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, in his statement.

“Talent and dedication were manifest among the many professionals we interviewed. All felt that better care can be delivered and that rising costs can be checked. Jamie, Jeff and I are confident that we have found in Atul the leader who will get this important job done,” said Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO, Warren Buffett.

Update: Stat News reports that Gawande will continue all his current roles, except that he will become chairman of Ariadne, transitioning from executive director. We are still waiting for a comment from Amazon (but we’re not holding our breath).