Dr. Stephen Klasko thinks digital health key to erasing disparities

Dr. Stephen Klasko typically sends a playlist to the employees at Jefferson Health and Thomas Jefferson University on Fridays in his weekly letters.

This week, the song recommendations came a day early, timed to coincide with Klasko’s announcement of his retirement as president of the university and CEO of the Philadelphia-based health system.

“Goodbye Don’t Mean I’m Gone” by Carole King rounded out Thursday’s playlist from the departing CEO, who will officially retire Dec. 31 but will remain on as a special advisor to the Jefferson board of trustees through July 2022.

Klasko didn’t expect to leave the system for a few more years but he beat his own timeline for accomplishing some of his major goals at Jefferson Health, he told Modern Healthcare Thursday. During his tenure, he landed large donations for medical buildings, oversaw mergers and acquisitions and led the system into digital healthcare, launching its telehealth service JeffConnect in 2014.

Klasko’s next step will involve “looking at how this digital transformation of healthcare can start to reduce health equities,” he said.

“What Jefferson has been able to do under my leadership is become a 197-year-old academic center thinking like a startup company. And frankly, I’ve become a bit of a unicorn as a horse whisperer between the move-fast-and-break-things world and the traditional healthcare ecosystem,” Klasko said. “That’s not a bad way to spend eight years.”

As he reflects on his time at the helm of the system, Klasko said he is most proud of how Jefferson responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. From its “no holds barred” approach to keeping people safe, to not laying or furloughing workers and to easing visitation restrictions for those at the end of their life so no one would have to die alone, Jefferson made some bold decisions to get through the past year and a half, he said.

The outgoing CEO said he will be “laser focused” on Jefferson through Dec. 31 and hopes to complete the system’s acquisition of health insurer HealthPartners Plans by November. That deal would propel Jefferson to roughly $8.1 billion in annual revenue, up from its current $6.7 billion, the system said.

After that, he wants to find a way to take the work he’s done at Jefferson to make the system a nimble life-saving institution to the national scale.

“How do we get academic medical centers together along with Silicon Valley folks to really start to move population health, predictive analytics, social determinants, philosophic things, to the mainstream of clinical care payment models and medical education. That’s going to be my passion,” Klasko said.

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