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Bernard Tyson, CEO, Kaiser Permanente

Bernard Tyson, CEO, Kaiser Permanente

By Bernard Tyson

Since shortly after Kaiser Permanente’s launch in 1945, this organization has been at the forefront of using technology to improve patient care. We started collecting large amounts of data about patients and treatment outcomes long before electronic medical records and “big data” became hot topics. And, today, we remain one of the early adopters of cutting-edge technology in the healthcare industry.

Like other healthcare organizations, we take advantage of technology to make our operations more efficient and to help deliver superior care. But I believe that information technology can play an even more important role in this industry: It can help us transform from focusing on healthcare to focusing on health.

What do I mean by that? To me, the term healthcare connotes being reactive to problems. That’s not enough. An organization that focuses more broadly on health itself can help people extend their lives and live healthier lives.

It may surprise you to learn that Kaiser Permanente has established more than 60 farmers’ markets around the country in communities where fresh fruits and vegetables are difficult to find. We do this because we believe that health organizations should help people improve their diets.

When I became CEO of Kaiser Permanente last year, I set of goal of building a 21st century health system. I believe we will achieve this by forming partnerships with our members that span their lifetimes–improving the quality of their lives from birth to death. This will be one of my key messages when I speak at IBM’s ThinkForum in New York City today.

Information technology will be instrumental in building such a health system.

It helps our organization understand more deeply everything there is to know about our patients and the practice of medicine. In 2010, we finished the 10-year process of rolling out Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect, the largest private electronic medical record system in the world, for our 9.5 million members. (They’re served by 611 medical offices and 37 hospitals.) But that was just the start. Our ability to collect and generate data will be critical going forward. That’s one reason why we’re working with IBM to set up a cloud-based data storage system that will provide secure, anywhere, anytime access to information.

Technology helps us form those tight bonds with our members that are essential to promoting good health. Several years ago we set up an online service, My Health Manager,  to enable members to connect with their healthcare providers and health information. More than 4.4 million members are registered. Last year, members used My Health Manager to view more than 26 million test results, send more than 11 million emails to care providers, refill more than 10.8 million subscriptions and schedule more than 2.8 million appointments. Members can access the system via our KP App on mobile devices. We call it “care anywhere.”

Now, we’re experimenting with virtual office visits. We have pilot programs running all over the country. These are real-time encounters between KP members and their primary care providers handled over the Internet via PCs, tablets or smartphones. In some cases, we offer live video. And, in the most advanced scenarios, we have set up private rooms within offices of employers were our members can self-administer blood pressure tests and other diagnostic procedures while they interact with their physician virtually.

In the old model for healthcare, the individual has to go somewhere to get help. In a 21st century health system, we meet people where they are. It’s a multiple-choice system.

Looking into the future, I can foresee us using cognitive computing technologies like IBM Watson to further enhance the member’s experience. These days, increasingly, individuals approach healthcare like consumers. They want to know more and to play a more active role in their care. A cognitive system available from the cloud would make it possible for people to ask questions and to get high-quality health information and advice any time they want it.

I locked on healthcare as a career when I was a boy growing up in the blue-collar town of Vallejo, California. My mother was often ill. Fortunately, my father had a job and we had access to healthcare. At first, I planned on becoming a doctor, but later I shifted to health care management instead. I’ve been at Kaiser Permanente for more than 30 years. I’m a KP lifer. From day one, I have been in awe of the work that our physicians and nurses perform.

My ambition from the start of my career has been to make sure that everybody has access to quality healthcare—regardless of family economics, race or other factors. Society has made progress toward this goal, especially recently, but we’re not there yet. That’s one of the reasons why I’m dedicating the next phase of my career to creating a 21st century health system. I’ll be counting on advances in information technology to help us fulfill the potential for people everywhere to live healthier and happier lives.

To learn more about the new era of computing, read Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing.

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