Becker’s 11th Annual Meeting: 4 Questions with Stephen Klasko, President and Chief Executive Officer at Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health

Stephen Klasko, MD, MBA, serves as President and Chief Executive Officer at Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health.

On May 26th, Dr. Klasko will participate in a keynote interview at Becker’s Hospital Review 11th Annual Meeting. As part of an ongoing series, Becker’s is talking to healthcare leaders who plan to speak at the conference, which will take place on May 24-26, 2021 in Chicago.

To learn more about the conference and Dr. Klasko’s session, click here.

Question: What, from your perspective, is the biggest challenge about the future of work for hospitals, and what can they do about it? (i.e. automation, desire for more flexibility, clinician shortages, etc.)

Stephen Klasko: It took us forty years to figure out how to get doctors and nurses to work collaboratively in “centers for interprofessional education. Pretty soon we will have to learn how to get doctors and robots to collaborate and in fact, Jefferson is working on a center for inter-sentient education. The key challenge will be when OMO (online meeting offline) occurs, what will be the role for the human in. the middle. That has significant opportunities for how we select and educate physicians, around the ethics and biases these “machines” will bring to the marketplace, and the recognition that this has the opportunity to increase physician burnout if not dealt with head-on.


a) we need to disrupt the medical selection and education model that incents doctors who are “memorization machines” and recognize that while technology will replace a good part of what we do, any doctor that can be replaced by a robot should be!

b) Creating sustainable and ethical business models for AI in health could substantially reduce the global burdens of disease, especially for chronic illness and complex care, as we go from self-driving cars to “self-healing humans”

c) We have seen the impact that EMR’s and other technologies have had on physician and nurse burnout. We need to invest in medical staff leadership training around communication skills, listening, self-awareness, and empathy so that physicians can get closer to their patients’ human needs while the robots do the memorizing

Q: What’s one lesson you learned early in your career that has helped you lead in healthcare?

SK: I learned during my MBA. at Wharton that “you should always have 5 people under you that think they can do a better job than you and 3 that are right!” At Jefferson we have grown from a 2 hospital, health science university $1 billion system to a four-pillar—academic, clinical, innovation/strategic ventures and philanthropy–$6 billion fifteen hospital, complex 2 campus university system. Our ability to execute and integrate has been because each person leading those pillars are better than I am in executing the vision. In a complex healthcare organization, the CEO’s #1 job is attracting top talent and recognizing that as orchestra conductor you do not have to play all the instruments!

Q: Where do you go for inspiration and fresh ideas?

SK: Three S’s: Science Fiction, societal disruptors, and Silicon Valley.

I read, watch and sometimes write science fiction novels because, in essence, they look at a future unencumbered by our aversion to risk. In my latest book, Bless This Mess, we theorized a future whereby the American health system was admitted into the “Intergalactic Council of Awesome Healthcare Systems,” where we looked at how other planets had successfully moved healthcare into the consumer revolution.

Societal disruptors, like Steve Jobs, were able to look at what was going to be obvious ten years from now and do it today. While many of us are concentrating on consultant driven strategic and business plans, Steve’s strategic plan for Apple was “year one-we change, Year 2—we change the industry, Year 3—we change the world.” For us the change the world part has to deal with social determinants of health and health inequities. At Jefferson, we are committed to utilizing technology and machine learning to attack what I believe is the healthcare issue of the 2020s.

I spend a fair amount of time in Palo Alto through Jefferson’s relationship with General Catalyst. Understanding how young engineers and computer science visionaries are looking at healthcare and creating systems that will move us from a sick care to a health assurance approach brings me back to Philadelphia feeling more optimistic about the future

Q: Healthcare has had calls for disruption, innovation and transformation for years now. Do you feel we are seeing that change? Why or why not?

SK: I believe we are at an “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more moment.” Medicare-for-All is a symptom of that movement. There was so much optimism about the ACA until it became obvious that all we were doing is giving more people access to a fundamentally broken, fragmented, inequitable, expensive and occasionally unsafe healthcare delivery system. For as much as we have improved care for individual patients, fundamentally how people access the system has not changed. I am hoping and expecting a patient revolution in which they demand the same kind of transparency, understanding, and ease of use in healthcare that they see in all other aspects of their life. When I was younger, people used to say the two industries that have ignored the consumer revolution are banking and healthcare. Well, now we are alone. And it is not one technology. Noone talks about telebanking. It’s just that 90% of banking has gone from the bank to the home. At Jefferson we talk about “healthcare with no address,” that Jefferson will aim to have consumers access Jefferson in the same easy and friendly and transparent manner that they access every other consumer good—starting at home.

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