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The City of the Revolution

by Stephen Klasko, M.D., M.B.A.
I believe the city of the American Revolution is ready to be the “city of the health care revolution.” Philadelphia must become known as the place where solutions start—a city that is healthy, diverse, creative and fun.

To get there, we don’t need more tools, we need the will to make it happen. We are already the city of “med and ed”—with more academic health centers than many states. It’s not about resources or technology. What we need is our bold assertion that we will do three things: collaborate, innovate and end disparities in health care. Here’s how:

Spur innovation and creative partnerships
We need to call on the next president, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, to reward collaborative innovation. These incentives must include a requirement for creative partnerships among our institutions. The centuries of competitiveness between Philadelphia’s great med and ed institutions isn’t helping Philadelphia.

But “collaboration” must be creative. The health care industry must embrace other industries, other professions. That’s why Thomas Jefferson University is combining with Philadelphia University. We need engineers who run zero-defect industries, like the systems engineering at PhilaU. We need designers to reframe the human experience of health, which is why the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Jefferson has a “school within a school” accepting Princeton University engineering majors. We need artists who have explored what it means to face fear, which is why we created a humanities “school within a school.”

And in a city of fashion and the arts, we need people who understand self-image to help people whose image of themselves has been shattered.

Next, move the locus of health care to homes and neighborhoods. We should embrace the major disruption occurring in health care delivery—the growth of telehealth and retail medicine. Health is central to making neighborhoods vibrant, young and great for business.

Not only does health care delivery at home help the neighborhood, it’s better health care. Telehealth can allow people who are frail to live in their community longer. That’s why Jefferson Health has built the largest faculty and specialty-based telehealth program in the nation.

End health disparities
Our landscape of empty factory buildings tells us Philadelphia suffered during the post-industrial era and the flight to the sun belt. The result is some of the worst health care disparity in the nation—the greatest difference in longevity between zip codes in a major city. We need to recognize that health disparities are tied to other discrimination—and attack them in sync.

As civil rights legend Andy Young said to me this year, “Show me a young black man with a good credit rating, and I’ll show you a healthy young man.” Great schools, great jobs, great neighborhoods—those are the keys to wellness. Despite our advances in genomics, zip codes still tell you more about someone’s health than genetic codes.

To build the health care revolution in Philadelphia, there is another revolution we must embrace. America’s medical schools enroll slightly fewer African-American men today than they did in the 1970s. We must transform how we select and train physicians. For a century, we’ve picked doctors based on their ability to memorize facts and answer standardized tests, and then we have been surprised when doctors aren’t more communicative, team-oriented and diverse.

It turns out that when you select medical students based on leadership experiences, emotional intelligence and communication skills, you get a much more diverse class.

Those are the physicians of the future. We know doctors will have next to them an IBM Watson or a Google robot to handle data analysis—to memorize every known genomic sequence and its correlation to diagnosis and treatment for thousands of patients at a time. We don’t need doctors to memorize genetic codes, nor could they. That means we need physicians to be human; to understand, to be empathic, to provide motivation for wellness and to provide meaning to patients faced with illness, including those at the end of life.

We can do all of this. The health care revolution in Philadelphia will be the heart of a city where arts flourish, where neighborhoods are vibrant and where young people stay and attract companies that want a creative workforce.

Most importantly for me, it’ll be the perfect city for my next job—as owner of “Stevie's Vinyl Emporium and Implantable Health Chips.” That’s my dream, as a former DJ, to show that music and medicine are the road to health for an individual or any city. As Andy Young also said, “When you’re in trouble, you got to get a song to sing.”

The result will be that the city where America began will be the city where it begins anew— healthy, diverse, creative and fun.

Stephen Klasko, M.D., M.B.A. is president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health.

Published (and copyrighted) in Philly Biz, Volume 1, Issue 10 (September, 2016).
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