The Three Rich Guys might save health care with Big Data, but smaller gains are more likely

One of the worst things you can do to your doctor is to show up for your appointment with a fistful of stories about a wonder drug or miracle treatment you’re just certain will cure whatever ails you.

That leaves the doctor in the uncomfortable position of telling you that the supposed answer to your medical travails is somewhere on the range of unproven idea to sheer quackery, and much to your disappointment you will not be leaving the clinic all fixed up and in the prime of health.

So, to spare you that same sense of disappointment, we are not coming to you today with news of a quick fix for the American health-care system.

Frequent readers of this space will note that the topic of how to improve American health care, like the topic of American higher education, is a recurring subject. In both cases, people are unhappy with the cost, outcomes and structure of the bloated, entrenched present system, but reforming either looks to be a near-impossible task.

In the case of health care, change might actually make the system worse.

Still, the news from earlier this year that three of America’s richest, most successful and/or prominent business leaders were going to take on the task of making health care cheaper, quicker and better intrigued people who figured the combination of money, smarts, influence and freedom to operate beyond the political realm would make for potent medicine.

Now the new, still-unnamed venture launched by Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos and Jamie Dimon (of JPMorgan Chase) has a leader and a headquarters city. What it doesn’t have is a clearly defined strategy, not a public one anyway, for how it’s going to address the health-care system’s woes.

The headquarters of the Jamie, Jeff & Warren Health-Care Venture will be Boston, which makes sense in that it’s a health-care and technology hub (although Seattle might have made sense, given that one of the three partners and Warren’s buddy Bill Gates are based here).

The new chief executive is Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon and professor at Harvard Medical School. He’s also author of several books, including “Being Mortal.”

“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 U.S. and across the world,” Gawande said in a release. “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.”

If you were hoping for more detail about where better can be found, so sorry, there wasn’t any.

Much of the speculation about what direction the new venture might go in has centered on data — collecting and analyzing it —which is not a reassuring message for those hoping for something tangible and useful to come out of this project. Big Data has been touted as the salvation of government and business to an extent that even the most enthusiastic peddler of patent medicines might blush.

Are there some numbers or patterns hidden in the oceans of data that, if correctly interpreted, will magically reveal the secrets of the universe, or at least health-care finance? That’s assuming a lot.

On the medical side of health care, treatment breakthroughs rarely occur with one momentous discovery. More typically they’re built on a succession and accumulation of small advances and failures. Thus, while we wait for the Three Rich Guys project to come up with something, it’s worth paying attention to all the small-scale successes and failures occurring in this region and all over the country.

Tacoma-based MultiCare recently announced an employer-sponsored health-care plan with Premera Blue Cross called Peak Care. Under the plan, patients can see specialists within the MultiCare universe without first getting a referral from a primary-care physician.

Peak Care, sponsors say, “could save employers as much as 15 percent off the cost of a traditional preferred provider organization or PPO plan.”

With Seattle being a center for hospitals, research, biotech, medical-device manufacturers, it’s not surprising that some local start-ups are taking a look at health care as a sector ripe for exploration. On such company, 98point6, offers access to health-care consultation via mobile app for an annual subscription fee. Seattle Children’s Hospital recently signed up for the program for its employees.

Some of these projects and start-ups will flame out — remember Qliance, touted as a new model for employee health care? — while others will gradually fade, having failed to deliver on prospects for improved treatment at a cheaper cost.

A few will produce ideas sufficiently promising that they’re acquired, or adapted, by bigger players.

Health-care delivery and financing is going to look different in the next two decades than it has in the previous two. It might well take that long for a gradual, albeit extensive, remake of the system — unless you’re banking on one someone in a white lab coat bursting through a doorway in Boston, waving a piece of paper and exclaiming, “Eureka! I’ve got it!”

Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at

(Excerpt) Read more Here | 2018-06-23 23:55:00
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