Paul Darling co-authored this blog post with Pratap Khedkar.

What kind of skills will it take to run the day-to-day operations for a potentially paradigm-shifting undertaking in U.S. healthcare delivery? It turns out that it's hands-on experience helping patients navigate the complexities of healthcare options and helping employers control healthcare costs, powered by an undercurrent of digital health expertise.

When Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase’s healthcare venture brought Atul Gawande on board, my colleague Paul Darling and I stressed the importance of having a leader available to juggle daily business demands, confront and defuse unforeseen events, and ensure the venture’s operational success. Jack Stoddard, the newly appointed chief operating officer, certainly looks good on paper. It seems that he’s had the chance to build the core competencies that he’ll need to be Gawande’s second in command at “BerkshAmazMorgan,” and it will be interesting to see whether he can link all of those skills together for his new post.

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights from Stoddard’s C.V. and how he might lend his skills to the corporate triumvirate’s attempt at healthcare reinvention—and what obstacles he’ll likely face:

1. He’s tuned in to what employers want. Healthy employees have fewer reasons to miss work, are more productive and have lower healthcare bills—which directly affects the employers’ bottom line. We know that this is one of the greatest concerns weighing on the minds of Jeff Bezos, Jamie Dimon and Warren Buffett—and Stoddard’s experience could be useful here. Much of Stoddard’s work as senior vice president of employer solutions at Optum (now part of UnitedHealth Group) likely was focused on helping employers improve the health of their workforce. During his eight-year stint as COO and chief strategy officer at Accolade, Stoddard continued to partner with employers to reduce costs, encourage and incentivize healthy employee habits, and improve health outcomes.

On the quest for high-quality care with a cheaper price tag, companies are already testing solutions like employer-sponsored health clinics and direct contracts with providers to bypass the insurance system. But our hunch is that Stoddard was hired to think outside the box. The key is to design programs and services that throw the familiar corporate wellness model out the window and bring a fresh perspective to boosting employee health. Does Stoddard have a new bag of tricks?

2. He understands where the system fails patients. At Accolade, Stoddard was immersed in a company focused on helping consumers understand their benefits, care options and choices—and ultimately improving patient satisfaction and lowering healthcare costs. In other words, he likely understands the challenges that patients encounter as they navigate through the healthcare landscape, and what it could take to make healthcare more accessible, efficient and cost-effective.

If Stoddard and Gawande want to succeed at designing the new healthcare continuum, they will, at a minimum, need to improve patient engagement and ensure that all BerkshAmazMorgan employees understand their healthcare options. The triumvirate’s healthcare services and plans will need to be clear and easy to navigate. That’ll be table stakes.

  • 3. He knows a thing or two about digital health—and data. If Stoddard succeeds at garnering employees’ buy-in via patient engagement efforts, he might be able to access and optimize more patient data, building a system in which patient data is more effectively shared across patients, payers and providers. Leveraging patient data effectively to improve both the patient experience and patients’ health outcomes is a problem that continues to vex healthcare industry leaders—and one that likely will be of great interest to Stoddard’s new employers. Stoddard should have some valuable insights to offer on how to optimize the role of patient data in the healthcare equation.

When it comes to digital health, Stoddard’s expertise will come in handy in devising data-driven solutions that make healthcare more efficient, effective and affordable for the triumvirate’s more than 1 million combined employees—and perhaps beyond. Stoddard first cut his digital health teeth at Accolade, where he contributed to and oversaw the development of the company’s digital platform. The “people-plus-technology solution” is designed to integrate consumer healthcare data from a variety of sources like lab results and insurance claims to help patients manage their healthcare information more easily and efficiently.

Stoddard most recently served as interim CEO of a partnership between Comcast and Philadelphia-based insurer Independence Health Group to “digitize” the healthcare journey by giving patients better access to healthcare information, tools and services via television, smartphone apps and other channels. In return, Independence Health will gain a new avenue for collecting patient data that can be used to fuel population health management initiatives. Stoddard could help Gawande take a similar tack, digitizing BerkshAmazMorgan employees’ healthcare journeys and tapping into mountains of patient data along the way. 

  • 4. He has gathered inside knowledge of payers and other healthcare players. Stoddard’s most recent post at Comcast gave him a direct line of sight into one of our country’s largest insurers—and the tradeoffs that employers and insurers make that directly affect consumers. His new paycheck likely hinges on his ability to leverage his insider intel to strike deals that lead to lower costs and healthier employees. Does he have what it takes to negotiate effectively with payers to design creative contracts?

Stoddard also will need to stand tall against a system that’s rife with private dealings that aim to push large employers and other potential healthcare “disruptors” out of the running. He’ll need to strike a balance between pursuing what he and his employers want from their healthcare partners (insurers, hospitals, provider organizations, etc.) and encouraging those same partners to experiment and embark on the journey together. Essentially, he’ll not only need to lead the new healthcare venture for the three corporate giants, but also help to shape and push forward the agenda for his B-to-B partners.

Stoddard’s C.V. shows plenty of evidence that he’s the right man to be Gawande’s right-hand man, but it takes more than experience to make a great COO—especially one charged with running a large, amorphous and potentially unwieldy new healthcare venture that intends to break the mold. My colleague Arun Shastri worked with Stoddard more than a decade ago, and he thinks that Stoddard is well-positioned to succeed: “I know that he’ll apply the same energy and rigor in this role, and the deep expertise he’s gathered in digital health and other areas along the way will be a boon for the new venture.”

Pairing Stoddard’s diverse and hands-on experience working on the business of healthcare with Gawande’s provider-oriented and patient-focused expertise could make for an interesting one-two punch as Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase set out to reimagine healthcare for their collective employee base—and maybe one day cure what ails the U.S. healthcare system.


BLOG POST: Bezos, Buffett and Dimon Bring in Part-Time CEO Gawande: Who Will Be the Muscle?

BLOG POST: What's 'BerkshAmazMorgan' Really Capable of?

BLOG POST: Is 'BerkshAmazMorgan' Testing a Cure for What Ails US Healthcare?


Topics: Pratap Khedkar, digital health, data and analytics, BerkshAmazMorgan, healthcare costs, employer-driven healthcare, patient data