Kaiser Permanente continues to be a leader in reducing health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities. The notion that everyone in the United States should have access to the same high-quality health care, regardless of who they are and where they live, has been a cornerstone of Kaiser Permanente’s vision of equitable care.
In recognition of this important area of work, Kaiser Permanente’s “My Future” advertisement highlights its ongoing commitment to reducing health disparities through its approach to disease prevention, detection and treatment.
Launched in August 2016, the powerful television spot features images of children playing basketball, going to school, swimming and playing guitar while we hear them recite sobering statistics about the health risks they may face. The message conveyed is that while nobody knows what the future holds, with access to better research, the right medicine, and doctors who keep people healthy to begin with, everyone can thrive.
“Having visionary leadership and a relentless commitment to excellence are key,” says Ronald Copeland, MD, FACS, senior vice president of National Diversity Strategy and Policy, and chief diversity and inclusion officer for Kaiser Permanente.
“The decision we made years ago to focus on health and health care disparities, in the pursuit of equity, is an example of our willingness to take on complex issues of critical importance and make significant progress,” he adds. “Our work is not done; we have many more important opportunities to close care gaps, but we are on the journey and we are learning how we can increase our effectiveness and optimize the impact of our efforts with the communities we serve.”
Key achievements include:
- Eliminating racial/ethnic disparities in survival rates among Kaiser Permanente patients who had colon cancer, despite well-documented health disparities in colon cancer incidence and mortality in the United States.
- Eliminating disparities in mortality and medication rates among African-American and Latino HIV-positive patients.
- Nearly eliminating disparities for cardiac risks and diabetes markers between black and white seniors covered by Kaiser Permanente in the western United States, even as these disparities persist among patients in other health systems in other regions of the U.S.
As part of Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to delivering high-quality, equitable health care, the organization is increasingly focused on personalizing the experience for members. Examples include providing care and service with cultural sensitivity and in the language members prefer and offering in-person, telephone and online appointments to best meet member needs.
In 2015, Kaiser Permanente analysts published a study in the American Journal of Managed Care on the use of Personal Health Records or patient portals, online tools that provide opportunities to email providers, view lab results, refill prescriptions and other tasks. PHRs and patient portals hold promise to enhance care quality, improve patient-provider relationships and encourage healthy lifestyle behaviors.
Across Kaiser Permanente, use of secure email with providers has been associated with improved health outcomes in the areas of diabetes and hypertension. The study identified race/ethnicity and written language preference as strong predictors of whether members will choose to register for PHR. It found that Asian American, Latino American and African American members were 23 percent, 55 percent and 62 percent less likely to register, respectively, than non-Hispanic white members.
The study is an important step in reducing health disparities as it identifies a gap and suggests that increasing PHR adoption will help to ensure that these populations receive the benefits of higher quality health care that are associated with the use of this tool.