Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon, author and public health advocate, has formally stepped into his new role leading ABC, a new venture which aims to reinvent the US healthcare system.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on July 10, 2018

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett has joined forces with Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon to form the venture known as ABC. It is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts.

It is not clear how exactly the new venture will operate but its general objective will be to provide more comprehensive and cost-effective health care for the 1.2 million employees of the three companies. The company has not ruled out casting its net wider in years to come.

The recruitment of Dr. Atul Gawande, a prominent figure in the healthcare debate and TED Talk speaker, signals its ambition.

“It says is that they’re thinking very big,” said Dr. Robert M. Wachter, Chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco.

“The system is broken”

Gawande officially started in his new role on Monday 9 July. The company he leads will be a non-profit.

The surgeon and author has long been an outspoken critic of what he sees as the widespread inefficiencies of the current system.

In a statement made when he was announced as the company’s first CEO Gawande said: “I have devoted my public health career to building scalable solutions for better health care 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.”

All eyes on Atul Gawande and the ABC venture

Some observers have said the new venture is unlikely to meaningfully address the existing inequalities in the US health care system where tens of millions of people are uninsured or underinsured when driven by the self-interest of the three companies involved.

Others have seen the new company as an exciting testing place for new ideas in the sector. One biopharma correspondent suggested the new venture could potentially leverage the extremely powerful data analysis tools used by Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon and JPMorgan Chase to drive efficiency gains in the sector.

“All the eyes of American health care will be on this new initiative,” said Andrew Dreyfus, CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

“Atul understands this is high stakes, and I think that’s why he took the job.”

Before coming on board at ABC, Gawande founded Ariadne Labs which won support from the World Health Organization, the Wolrd Bank and the Gates Foundation among others. It focuses on childbirth, surgery and serious illness care.

Ariadne Labs is perhaps best known for developing a surgical safety checklist. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found it had lowered rates of deaths and complications in hospitals.

One of the main challenges for Gawande and colleagues will be to address spiralling costs for chronic illnesses and working out how to shift treatments to lower-cost institutions than hospitals. The sheer scale of the project will also be new ground for Gawande.

Gawande’s popular TED talk, titled ‘How do we heal medicine?’ has been viewed more than one million times.