GE Puts a Health Care Vet on Top

Jun 12, 2017

There was some mighty big news at GE this morning, as GE CEO Jeff Immelt announced he was stepping down from the role on August 1, and being replaced by the current head of GE’s healthcare division, John Flannery. Flannery will assume the Chairman’s title as well on Jan. 1, 2018—which will put a formal end to Immelt’s long stewardship of the company.

I had breakfast with Flannery two weeks ago and he’s a smart, affable guy. Since 2014, he has led the healthcare unit, which had nearly $18.3 billion in revenue last year—or just under 15% of the company’s total business. And he’s credited with boosting the segment’s operating income by a healthy margin (up nearly 10% in 2016, year over year).

GE Healthcare has embarked on some thoughtful partnerships with academic centers of late: working with Boston Children’s Hospital to develop a pediatric brain scan database and algorithms to help non-specialists quickly identify kids with development delays, for instance; partnering with UCSF to create predictive analytics to improve diagnoses from CT scans and X-rays (in part, using data from electronic health records); and working with Johns Hopkins to make its hospital bed allocation more efficient, among other things.

And at the Brainstorm Health gathering in May, we got to see a cool demonstration of another technology partnership…in real-time. A doctor in rural India treated a chest pain patient with the help of a portable GE Health electrocardiogram (ECG) device. This physician wasn't a specialist. But thanks to cloud computing, he was able to transmit the heart data over to a cardiologist in San Diego, who then interpreted these results and shot his analysis and advice back to the Indian doctor via a tool called Tricog that can be downloaded via smartphone.

The good news for GE going forward is that its new boss seems to “get” healthcare and the power that disruptive technology can wield here. The bad news? Jack Brennan, GE’s lead director told me this afternoon: “John got fired as the head of GE Healthcare” when he was named CEO of the whole company.

I’ll have more of my fascinating conversation with Brennan, who led Vanguard for more than a decade, and Susan Peters, who leads human resources at the company, tomorrow.

This essay appears in today's edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.

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