Imagine it’s 2030. The COVID-19 pandemic is a distant memory. Medications are delivered by drones. Broadband is a universal utility. And the health care industry has shifted from caring for sick patients to ensuring the health of all patients through consumer-friendly, data-centric preventive care, significantly narrowing health inequities in the process.
This is the future Stephen Klasko, MD, an advocate for the use of technology to build “health assurance,” asked Texas physicians to consider during his closing keynote speech on April 30 at TexMed, the Texas Medical Association’s annual conference, in Houston.
Over the next eight years, he argued, the health care industry will emerge from the pandemic with a more consumer-friendly outlook, having experienced its own “Amazon” moment. He encouraged audience members to embrace this shift toward “health assurance,” ensuring their rightful place as industry leaders.
“The lesson learned is … always look through the eyes of 10 years in the future and start doing that now,” he said.
Dr. Klasko retired in December from his position as president and CEO of the Philadelphia-based Thomas Jefferson University, a private research institution, and Jefferson Health, a nonprofit health system.
During his tenure, he made it his mission to operate the 195-year-old academic medicine behemoth like a Silicon Valley startup. He invested in a major telehealth program in 2014, setting the health system up for success during the pandemic, and launched an initiative to mitigate risk factors for heart disease across five high-risk Philadelphia ZIP codes in 2021.
Now, Dr. Klasko’s sharing his playbook with his fellow physicians. During this “kinda after COVID” period, he believes physicians who embrace consumerism and commit to eliminating health disparities through accessible preventive care will thrive.
He pointed to studies showing that patients want to shop for health care the way they do other services, whether an iPhone, an Airbnb reservation, Warby Parker eyeglasses, or most other products on Amazon. But the industry hasn’t yet met this demand, with many patients reporting they feel health care is intentionally complicated and opaque.
“No one wakes up in the morning thinking or wanting to be a patient,” he said. “What they want is to be a person who can thrive and be happy without health care getting in the way.”
Dr. Klasko conceded that revolutionizing health care to operate in a more consumer-friendly way will prompt some growing pains.
“The simple fact is, if we’re going to create something disruptive, it’ll disrupt our current lines of business,” he said.
But he believes health care funding is already migrating away from old models – such as hospitals focused on sick care – toward new ones, like virtual care, retail clinics, home care, and intensive care models for high-cost patients.
To support his theory, he pointed to a March 2020 report by Moody’s Investors Services, which downgraded the financial outlook for nonprofit hospitals from stable to negative.
Dr. Klasko cited his own experience at Jefferson Health, which made it its mission to address health inequities in Philadelphia. This ethos attracted employees from competing health systems, who wanted to work for an employer with a clear sense of purpose beyond just making money.
Physicians who take a similar approach will weather the current tight labor market and attract employees who are fulfilled and loyal. Those who don’t may struggle to survive the Great Resignation.
Similarly, physicians who develop their emotional intelligence will safeguard their positions in the health care industry, even as data entry and other job responsibilities become increasingly automated and computerized.
Medical associations also play a role in this shift. Dr. Klasko commended TMA for its recent success in getting the Texas Legislature to pass a “gold-card” bill that gives physicians a chance to earn an exemption from payers’ onerous prior authorization requirements. Dr. Klasko added this kind of advocacy helps cut down on the red tape that traps physicians and patients in an unfriendly consumer experience.
“Everyone in the audience is part of this revolution,” he said.