Professors of innovation: Reimagining the workforce in lockstep with emerging technologies

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital CEO Stephen Klasko is striking some surprising partnerships to advance a bold vision that disrupts care delivery and medical school, as well as the education of workers who will be critical a decade from now.
By Tom Sullivan
09:10 AM
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Thomas Jefferson Stephen Klasko

Thomas Jefferson CEO Stephen Klasko in the former Federal Reserve room that is now an innovation space. 

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital now occupies America’s first Federal Reserve building. Within that downtown-Philadelphia address is a massive vault that, rather than locking away money, is a makerspace open to entrepreneurs and innovators.

“Our students hang out in a 100-year old vault working on 3D printing and virtual reality,” said CEO Stephen Klasko, MD.

And if Klasko fulfills one of his goals some of those students and others will have the opportunity to earn full professorship, not by winning NIH funding or conducting groundbreaking research on microbiology but, instead, via entrepreneurship and innovation.

Undercover CEO
With kids on the way home from Alaska, New York and Tampa, Klasko ended up in the hospital himself on the Friday before Father’s Day.

The traveling kids, of course, had no idea their father was in an emergent situation but because Klasko has signed up for Thomas Jefferson’s Virtual Rounds, which uses Bluejeans technology, to nofity and speak with them from the hospital. 

“The kids say I offered them each a new car because I was post-anesthesia,” Klasko cracked. 

Then he took a step back and realized the healthcare system at large could have been providing that service with FaceTime or Skype years ago — or even just the plain old telephone system two decades back. 

“That was my undercover boss moment,” Klasko said.

His takeaway?

The current level of customer service, in which a family member has to call the patient, who is not always the most informed about what is happening, is not sustainable.

“The issue is how we use tech to enter the consumer age,” Klasko said. “The first thing that has to change is to look at how innovation fundamentally disrupts what we do with patients because patient service, if it wasn’t the fact that it’s other peoples money, no one would tolerate it.”

Surprising bedfellows
To improve the patient experience it provides, Thomas Jefferson struck an accord with what might ostensibly appear to be an unlikely partner: Philadelphia University.

“We are merging with one of the top 10 design universities in the country,” Klasko explained. “The future is going to be all around design of the patient experience and that’s what these guys do really, really well. We can bring those leaders around to redesign healthcare. We have as part of Thomas Jefferson a top design school, a top architecture school and a top healthcare school.”

Klasko is already working on elements of design around food services, and determining whether Thomas Jefferson should partner with OpenTable or grubhub and bring food in from outside, rather than trying to transform its own kitchens into a competitive culinary specialist.

Next-gen job skills
To support its grand vision of transforming healthcare education and, in turn, the workforce, Thomas Jefferson created the Institute for Emerging Health Professions to identify jobs that will be needed ten years from now.

Klasko and his team, for instance, worked with Epic CEO Judy Faulkner to query her employees about that topic and among the most interesting that came back: people with dual-degrees in genomics and computer science.

Klasko said Thomas Jefferson is working to establish the first masters program on Cannabis medical education and research because it’s now legal in many states.

"But unless you are in Colorado or the Grateful Dead,” Klasko said, “that is not happening anywhere.”

The hospital is also working to establish the first certificate program at a national academic center for telehealth and is bringing people from TV and communications to create this program, ahead of its July start date.

Professors of innovation
Now, a word about those students in the vault working on cutting-edge technologies.

“We are going to create a way for those people to be professors of entrepreneurship and innovation,” Klasko said.

The health system is also operating the PIER (Partners in Innovation, Education and Research) program that enables innovators to work through one channel to potentially introduce emerging technologies to eight hospitals in the Philadelphia areas.

While the city is growing as a health innovation hub and some affectionately refer to the hotspot of upstarts in the North 3rd Street area as N3rd (Nerd) Street, they are attracting people from all over the country.

Like many other hospitals running innovation labs or startup accelerators, Klasko said some of the technologies will become actual products and commercialized, though the overarching aim is to improve the patient experience for the 2 million lives Thomas Jefferson serves each year.

The central question, then, that Klasko strives toward answering:

“What are the disruptive things that happen in every other part of my life that don’t yet happen in healthcare?” 

Read more Innovation Pulse columns from Healthcare IT News.

Twitter: SullyHIT
Email the writer: tom.sullivan@himssmedia.com


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