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Surgeries and symphonies: Reimagining a post COVID optimistic future

Stephen Klasko, MD and Steve Kett | June 23, 2020

Patients and patrons of the arts. Surgeries and symphonies. We know the differences, but what’s not obvious is how much each shares after COVID-19. We believe that seeing health care and the performing arts side-by-side makes clear how much the hybrid virtual world has to offer both. In fact, just as telehealth increases access for patients, so the explosion of online creativity helps democratize the performing arts. The key question: How much will patients and patrons embrace a hybrid virtual and in-person world that offers an increasingly rich experience to everyone.

Although health care delivery and performing arts seem unrelated, they share a largely in-person business model of delivering value. That the in-person business model is inherently fragile is evidenced by numerous historical examples of digital accelerators (Amazon/retail stores, Netflix/DVD stores, Uber/taxis) across industries. In each case, twentieth century principles of mass production and economies of scale ceded to mass personalization and rentable scale.

The COVID-19 crisis will act as an enormous, while mostly invisible accelerator. If you are a health care provider, and believe you can go back to a business model solely based on hospital revenue at ever increasing costs, you will not be relevant to those who want care (like every other part of their consumer life) to begin at home. If you lead an arts organization, attracting patrons to your in-person offerings at ever increasing prices, will be an increasingly difficult proposition, even after most of the world is immunized against this virus.

The future? A hybrid model. This is not an “either-or” but a “both-and” equation. In health care, telemedicine will never replace 100 percent of in-person care delivery, and in the arts, virtual performances and online museum tours will never replace 100 percent of in-person experiences. But this crisis presents a tremendous opportunity to find out what works and what doesn’t. And with the latter, learn from the failure, and move on quickly.

Here’s the good news. Both health care and the arts have failed to equitably improve the lives of all people. In-person expensive health care has shut out a good proportion of our underserved population from thriving without health getting in the way. Tiered ticket pricing and expensive galas have left many without the life-lifting experiences that the arts provide. Shifting some amount of value delivery to virtual subscription platforms allows both businesses to reach a much broader set of their current and potential customers than “in-person only” delivery ever would allow. And might this increased reach help to address long-standing inequities in who is able to access the value in both businesses?

We believe the past months have shown that in-home health care can be as rich as the zoom symphonies, exhibits and digital plays we’ve seen. Increasingly sophisticated medicine will help people manage diabetes, track a pregnancy, diagnose a virus, intervene in depression, manage cancer care, prevent asthma attacks, and guide sufferers of angina. It will help people live at home longer, and help keep people well, so they may pursue happy and productive lives without healthcare getting in the way. Increasingly creative virtual arts programs will explode across new mediums and bring these experiences to many more people.

As a theatre director said, if we only expect audiences to cram into small seats in the dark, and pretend they are not there, then they may as well stay home. She’s right. The in-person experience of both health care and the arts must be interactive, it must be essential, it must make sense of what’s happening.

Disruption is always, well, disruptive! Just as Amazon made holiday shopping easier, and at the same time forced retail stores to create differentiated experiences, both the arts and healthcare have an incredible opportunity to use their most creative instincts to reimagine and diversify their delivery options in a way that benefits all of us and creates an optimistic future for two of the most important aspects of our twenty-first century economy.

About the Author

Stephen Klasko, MD and Steve Kett, C-Level contributor

Stephen Klasko, MD, MBA is the President of Thomas Jefferson University and CEO of Jefferson Health and Steve Kett is Founding Partner of the Advisory Board for the Arts