Eric Lefkofsky’s Trillion-Dollar Solution
“Let’s start with money,” says Eric Lefkofsky, in a recent blog post that was published in Crain’s Chicago Business. “We spend about $3 trillion a year on health care in this country,” and “roughly one-third is wasted.” The mission of his latest startup, Tempus, is to do what for healthcare that his other companies have done for marketing, transportation, and consumer goods. “By bringing Big Data (along with machine learning and artificial intelligence) to healthcare,” Mr. Lefkofsky believes, “we can reduce mortalities by well over 50 percent.”
“Write what you know,” Mark Twain advised writers, and money is a subject, which Mr. Lefkofsky has come to know as the co-founder of Innerworkings (INWK), Echo Logistics (ECHO) and Groupon (GRPN), Lefkofsky has a talent for finding and resolving corporate inefficiencies and closing gaps in markets, a talent for making something out of nothing more than an idea, a talent for solving problems. His publicly traded companies brought efficient delivery to marketing, transportation and consumer goods by connecting the materials of production to the producers, and the producers to the consumers. He would now connect doctors and patients with the most advanced technology, empowering them to make the most informed treatment decisions. To that end, Mr. Lefkofsky has established Tempus and intends to build the largest medical library of molecular and clinical data.
The money Mr. Lefkofsky refers to is that which we spend as a country on healthcare, more than any other developed country. Mr. Lefkofsky proposes we use the trillion dollars that is wasted on healthcare to solve other major social problems. Half of that is government spending, and half is private. The United States government spends about as much on healthcare, as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), as other developed countries. But the private spending of individual consumers, insurance companies, and medical researchers doubles the total. One sixth of our GDP goes to healthcare, twice as much as other developed countries. Most of the waste, approximately two-thirds, according to the National Academy of Medicine is categorized as unnecessary services, excess administrative costs, and inefficient care delivery.
Mr. forte has been solving delivery problems—getting things where they need to be when needed. Now the product he wishes to deliver more efficiently is information.
“The elephant in the room is cancer and other diseases that endlessly consume our resources,” and Mr. Lefkofsky has formed Tempus to tame that beast. We are no longer “powerless, to combat illnesses such as cancer, overwhelmed by its complexity” because we have “for the first time the tools we need to peer inside the body and understand what makes us healthy and what makes us sick. “
But Mr. Lefkofsky’s mission for Tempus is not just a healthcare solution, not just a more efficient method for managing a deadly disease, and is even more than “the gateway of a new era of technology and medicine.” The improvements in healthcare, described in terms of a million lives saved, can be translated into dollars to relieve of ills that trouble the rest of society. Because of the sheer enormity of the numbers spent on healthcare, any significant percentage savings could significantly improve or nearly resolve our most pressing problems. A trillion dollars saved would allow for a 20% increase in spending on education, double our spending to reduce crime, eliminate poverty, and pay the interest on $20 trillion in national debt.
Tempus is Latin for time, and time is money. Time is also life for a cancer patient. Which treatment is administered and when so often determines a cancer patient’s chances for survival and recovery. By furthering the collection of molecular data through individual genome sequencing and clinical data on individual cancer patients, Tempus intends to allow more precise and timely matching of cancer treatments with cancer patients.
Progress toward an efficient healthcare delivery system is not entirely dependent upon technological advances. Whenever people are involved, progress can be slowed by the inability for human beings to process new information while carrying out everyday responsibilities. Some oncologists may continue to choose traditional treatments regardless of effectiveness. Some patients may choose no treatment when presented with the cost of that treatment. Some institutions may be unwilling to barter information they have collected for the uncertain value of the newest research and technology. As Kurt Vonnegut says in Slaughterhouse Five, “So it goes.”
Most wars are about wealth—money, property, and power—and fighting a war requires the expenditure of wealth. The troops must be armed, fed and transported. The troops in the fight against cancer are the general practitioners and oncologists who interview patients and record their notes. Tempus gathers this intelligence from the frontlines in the war on cancer via electronic healthcare records, and assists doctors in digitizing their patient notes. From Tempus, the medical troops receive the latest updates on their disease foes, which weapons have been most effective, and how to best coordinate their strengths. “It’s time to double down. It’s time to focus. Because as you can see, if we win this battle, we win the entire war.”