Kaiser Permanente: 8 key capabilities for a sustained response to COVID-19 

As the industry braces for the next phase of COVID-19, experts at Kaiser Permanente are sharing several key capabilities that will be critical to prepare for another potential surge.

In an article for NEJM Catalyst, leaders at the healthcare giant highlight eight focus areas health systems must consider as the country reopens and offer a look at how Kaiser Permanente tackled those challenges.

A critical starting point, they write, is a robust testing program that feeds into essential contact tracing and monitoring of any spikes in cases. As of May 18, Kaiser Permanente has performed more than 233,706 diagnostic tests and is also tracking the spread telephonically through its call centers as well as secure emails between patients and doctors.

The Oakland, California-based system is also mulling greater use of patient symptom surveying and harnessing data within electronic health records to further enhance the testing effort, according to the article.

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Stephen Parodi, M.D., executive vice president at The Permanente Federation and Kaiser Permanente's national infectious disease leader, told Fierce Healthcare that the goal of the paper is to spotlight how crucial it is to consider all fronts in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“I think one of the biggest takeaways here is that we need a complete and comprehensive approach to suppress the virus,” Parodi, one of the report's lead authors, said.

Bechara Choucair, M.D., senior vice president and chief health officer at Kaiser Permanente, is also one of the paper's lead authors.

The other capabilities included in the report are:

  • Enhanced contact tracing and isolation efforts
  • Robust community health efforts
  • Home health care options
  • Ability to maintain surge capacity
  • Targeted and safe strategies to reopen
  • Ongoing research on the virus
  • Effective communication with patients

Parodi said two of the biggest challenges Kaiser Permanente faced in working through this checklist of capabilities were a lack of supplies and the need to work alongside other organizations.

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He said that didn’t only mean strengthening and reinforcing existing relationships with community groups but also reaching out to other health systems and providers to coordinate plans and work together.

It also required coordination between officials and policymakers at all levels of government, he said.

“Having the leaders at individual medical centers working with the county level folks is really key to making sure that we’re aware of each other’s work and response, then actually syncing them together,” Parodi said.

Parodi also said that Kaiser Permanente went “wholesale” into using telehealth during the initial surge of COVID-19 cases, and now the system and its physicians will be working together to determine where virtual care is most appropriate and effective, as the interest in and growth of those services isn’t going away anytime soon.

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He added that moving into the reopening phase poses its own set of challenges, because it’s an “unprecedented” situation to navigate.  

Kaiser Permanente is aiming to center shared decision-making and patient education in the response to reopening, he said, while also providing guidance to support providers. That way, decisions are ultimately made by the doctor and patient, but they’re informed and guided decisions, he said.

“There is no set playbook for how to do it right,” Parodi said.