For more than two decades, Atul A. Gawande, MD, MPH, FACS, has worked at the intersection of direct patient care and population-level impact and asked a fundamental question: How do we fix health care systems to deliver better care for every patient, everywhere? His insistence that solutions must be simple, affordable, and scalable across diverse settings has led to Dr. Gawande being widely recognized for his role in developing system innovations that have improved care for hundreds of millions of patients globally.
Dr. Gawande is a general and endocrine surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; professor, department of health policy and management, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; and the Samuel O. Their Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. He will present Monday’s Charles G. Drake History of Surgery Lecture, Slow Ideas: Scaling Surgery.
Through Ariadne Labs, the center he founded at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard, Dr. Gawande and his team have fostered a new field of health systems innovation to reduce suffering and save lives on a large scale. Much of their work has examined surgical errors, establishing their frequency and seriousness and revealing underlying mechanisms.
From his clinical practice, writing, and public health research, Dr. Gawande has distilled a pivotal insight: “The fundamental disease of health care systems is lack of execution. The cause is complexity. The solution is health systems innovation.”
To drive solutions, Dr. Gawande has launched several start-ups and built supporting coalitions across the health care, technology, and business sectors. He helped design a sponge-tracking technology, now sold as the SurgiCount Safety-Sponge System, which addresses one of the most persistent, harmful, and costly surgical errors—forgetting sponges in patients during procedures.
To advance surgical safety in low-resource settings, Dr. Gawande founded Lifebox, a not-for-profit that uses market mechanisms to lower the costs of safety monitoring equipment for low-income countries by 80 percent. Lifebox has built a network of professionals who have trained more than 6,000 anesthesia providers in low-income settings; those providers have cared for more than 10 million people to date.
Over the years, Dr. Gawande has led teams that have created simple, scalable tools that have rapidly changed medical practice domestically and globally at critical moments, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Hospital Worker Checklist during the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak, the CDC Checklist for Prescribing Opioids in Chronic Pain, and the WHO Patient Care Checklist for the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) epidemic.
In July 2018, Dr. Gawande became chief executive officer of the Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase health care organization. In this role, he is working to improve health care delivery for the companies’ employees and their families in ways that will create better models of care for all. While at the helm of this significant joint venture, he will continue to devote himself to building scalable solutions for better health care delivery in the U.S. and across the world.
At the heart of Dr. Gawande’s work is a commitment to the highest principle of medicine: “All people have lives of equal worth.”
The Charles G. Drake History of Surgery Lecture is sponsored by the Advisory Council for Neurological Surgery. The lecture was established in 1992 to explore the historical development of surgery and to honor Dr. Drake, a leader in neurosurgery.