Washington's latest attraction: Kaiser's new healthcare IT showroom

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When people come to Washington, D.C., what do they want to see? This time of year, the cherry tree blossoms around the Tidal Basin are a popular venue. Or maybe the "Spirit of St. Louis" at the Air and Space Museum or the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum (that is, if a government shutdown doesn't prevent the museums from opening). But beginning the next week, Kaiser Permanente (KP) is hoping you might want to learn a little more about health and wellness--with a dash of healthcare-related technology and best practices thrown in.

On April 11, KP is opening up to the public -- and to DC's healthcare movers and shakers -- the doors to its new 16,000-square-foot Center for Total Health, which features electronic displays, interactive exhibits and conference areas related to keeping healthy, complete with the latest healthcare innovations. The center is located next to KP's new Capitol Hill Medical Center near the hallowed halls of Congress.

So what are the attractions? At the front is the centerpiece -- what KP calls "one of the world's largest touch screen walls" --an 80-foot long electronic timeline that reflects the hours of the day when one can walk for health. Along the way, a visitor can push specially designated electronic buttons on the screens to hear stories about the benefits of walking and exercise.

Another section has technology demonstration areas showing some of the latest in computerized equipment and software in providing care through telehealth, mobile health applications, and medication adherence. Other interactive touch screen displays focus on the concept of "total health" -- how individuals such as patients and clinicians perceive and strive for it, and how best practices are achieved.

While the center will be open for all visitors, it would particularly like to catch the eyes of employers. "Part of our goal is to differentiate ourselves," said Robert Pearl, MD, executive director and CEO of the Permanente Medical Group and the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, told FierceHealthcare during a pre-opening tour this week.

While Kaiser Permanente serves a large share of the healthcare marketplace on the West Coast, it's not quite the same story on the competitive East Coast. The technology on display -- which is being used by the parent system -- will provide employers with "an awareness" of how healthcare can be provided and outcomes improved using the latest technologies, Pearl said. "It's the opportunity to understand what is possible."

And, it's no accident that the center is just a few blocks -- an easy walking distance -- from the Capitol. In an interview with the New York Times this week, KP officials emphasized that they hoped to draw policymakers to its conference space from not only around the country but from around the world.

Pearl said the center -- along with the integrated health center next door (one of five that will be built in the mid-Atlantic area) -- is a way to show that healthcare is breaking away from the "silos" that once defined healthcare delivery. Pearl said. "It's the future of care. But it's not the way everybody now gets care." - Janice