The Medical Revolution You Haven’t Heard About … Yet

Thomas Jefferson University’s Stephen Klasko and Bon Ku discuss the importance of health care design.

The science and art of medicine have been undergoing increasingly rapid change for decades. New treatments are developed. New diagnostic tools arrive. Cures become imaginable where none were before. But there’s one area where change has been slow: design. And if you’re wondering what design has to do with health care, you’ve uncovered part of the reason why: Most medical professionals don’t even think about poor design as a problem. But it is.

Enter Stephen Klasko, an MD with an MBA, who is CEO of Jefferson Health System and Thomas Jefferson University, and Bon Ku, MD, a  professor of emergency medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Ku runs a new program to turn less traditional medical students into innovative, creative problem-solvers, route them into medical school, and create a new type of physician trained to solve health care problems through design methodology. “Everything in health care is design,” says Ku.

Klasko and Ku joined the [email protected] show on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111 to talk about why design is so important to health care’s future, and the unabashedly cool ways they intend to harness to force the medical profession to evolve. You can listen to the interview using the player above. An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.

[email protected]: Why design?

Klasko: I’m going to turn this over to Bon, but it’s sort of a great week to talk about this because I had a chance to interview for the Arts & Business Council [of Greater Philadelphia], an individual named Bruce Mau, who runs something called Massive Change, who’s actually done design for Mecca (the Muslim holy city). And his point is, the core of optimism is design, and when industries are going through a major change, your experience is the design.

So last time we were here, we were talking about things moving to a consumer experience in health care. It’s not just good enough to say “OK, we’re going to go and take care of you in the emergency room.” What’s the experience? Well, Bon is not only involved in transforming and disrupting that experience, but actually creating a college within a college so that our students really can understand design with places like Princeton involved. So Bon, you might want to talk a little bit about what you do during the day.

“When we design hospitals, we should want to design the best and most beautiful building which happens to be a hospital, but instead, we design mediocre buildings.” –Bon Ku

Ku: I run a design program at Sidney Kimmel Medical College [at Thomas Jefferson University]. It’s the first design program for medical school in the country. We take students during their first year of medical school, and we teach them design methodology. This involves empathy, rapid prototyping and iteration, and we teach them before they enter their pre-clinical years how to solve health care problems through design methodology — to really think outside the box and become creative problem solvers.

[email protected]: How important is this for the future doctors right now, and how key is it to get to them in that first year?

Ku: I think it’s vitally important because in medical school, we are good memorizers and we’re pretty good technicians, but I think we are not great problem solvers. In order to innovate in health care, we need to really redesign how we train and teach doctors of the future.?Twitter  We need to equip them with tools in the rapidly changing landscape of health care.

Klasko: Last time we were here, we talked about the fact that we still accept students based on science GPA, MCATs and organic chemistry grades, and somehow, we’re amazed that doctors aren’t more empathetic, communicative and creative. Under Bon’s leadership, we’ve now done a partnership with Princeton University, and it’s really cool because it’s exactly what we talked about. It’s going to students and saying “Before we suck the creativity out of you by forcing you to memorize every organic chemistry formula, go and major in something really cool, take the minimum amount of science courses you need to take ….” Do you want to talk a little bit about that and what kind of students you hope to get out of that?

Ku: Yes. We accept students during their sophomore year, and we don’t make them take the MCAT because we feel like we can teach them medicine when they get to medical school, and we really want them to use their undergraduate experience to explore and be creative, to take design classes. We want to attract a different type of medical student to our school. For example, I was a humanities major, a classical studies major, and less than 5% of med school applicants are humanities majors. We traditionally just take biology majors.

[email protected]: So undergrads who think that they want to be doctors are just focused so much on getting to that next step of getting into med school that they miss a lot of opportunities along the way.

Ku: Absolutely. And a lot of students are reluctant to go to medical school, because they look at it, this massive amount, years of memorizing and jumping through all these hoops. I think we lose a lot of students who are innovative and creative to other fields that do it better than us, like the tech industries.

Klasko: Let’s tie this to Wharton because I think this is one of the things that Wharton has done very well. When I did the Wharton Executive MBA program, they got to a point where they said “We want to round out our class.” Just like Jefferson, we have 12,000 applicants for 290 slots, and if all that we look at is science GPA and MCATs, we’re going to get a certain kind of class. Why did a gynecologist from Allentown get into Wharton? Because they wanted to round out their class instead of just getting all finance people.

So the ability for us to say, “Look, there’s some people that we need to get that are going to be physicians, scientists or going to be technicians,” but also getting that human component…. Those kids over 10 years will be 150 of the smartest, most creative folks on the planet that probably won’t go out and become physician NIH scientists. They might go and start their own companies, they might go and teach, they might go and practice, but they’ll be very, very different.

[email protected]: What is it, though, that really got you going down this path of thinking about design and how it was an important educational component for future doctors? What was the key?

Ku: Just to share a personal story, I work in the emergency department, and I was getting frustrated seeing some of the same problems in health care show up at our doorstep, and I felt frustrated because I felt I could not change the system. A lot of us in medicine become jaded, a little bit cynical. Design affords an opportunity to really say, “How can we change the system?” And it creates that optimism that we can pivot the needle in health care.

“Thirty-five percent of Stanford’s medical students never go and take a residency in 2015.

1, 234  - View Full Page