Kaiser Permanente launches online directory, call center to address social needs in communities

Kaiser Permanente has launched a multichannel support center to better address the social needs of members and nonmembers.

The Community Support Hub is a self-service online directory of community resources. It also includes a call center for referral assistance. The solution will enable Kaiser to have more touch points with patients and better address the overall health of its communities.

“Many people need more than high-quality medical care to stay healthy, which is why we’re continuing to support our members beyond clinical walls to seamlessly connect them to the community resources they need to live healthy, thriving lives,” Bechara Choucair, M.D., senior vice president and chief health officer, said in a press release.

“If you’re not a KP member, your friend is, your neighbor is,” Vice President of Social Health Anand Shah, M.D., told Fierce Healthcare. In effect, there is no distinction between a member and a community. “You can’t have one without the other.” 

In 2020, Kaiser surveyed more than 10,000 members, 63% of whom reported having at least one social risk factor that impacted their health. Two years later, Kaiser conducted the survey again, reaching the same respondents, and found that the figure had climbed to 68%. Members with any social need were six times more likely to report fair or poor mental health and three times more likely to report fair or poor physical health.

“You can’t have quality without health equity,” Shah said. And health equity is hard to achieve without understanding the social determinants of health, he added. “That broad framing is the premise for why I came to KP and we developed the social health practice.”

Since 2019, Kaiser has partnered with Unite Us, a tech platform facilitating social care referrals. The resulting social health network, Thrive Local, connects community-based organizations, providers and public agencies. It operates across multiple states, including California, Washington and Oregon, and bills itself as the most comprehensive of its kind. 

In 2022, Kaiser connected more than 170,000 members to community-based resources. This year, Shah said the organization is on track to screen 3 million members.

“The needs are growing, and the level of scale that we need to reach is going to require a more comprehensive and coordinated solution,” he said.

Enter the Community Support Hub. The solution will bolster the efforts of care and service teams and increase the organization’s understanding of its populations’ needs to drive further partnerships and investments in its communities. 

A number of members have really complex needs and are best served on the ground by Kaiser staff, like care managers. But about 90% or more, Shah estimates, have lower acuity needs and don’t come in for care as often. The hub can support their needs in between those visits.

Kaiser screens via multiple channels like its website, email or text before a patient comes in for an appointment. Based on their risk level, they could be guided to the hub or to a navigation specialist for further assistance.

“It kind of becomes a background activity that you can use as a resource and I think can serve the vast majority of our population,” Shah said.

The hub can also help prompt screenings and follow-ups for members, albeit indirectly. While the directory can be accessed on Kaiser’s site with no login, there are other gateways that can take members there after they have logged in. Whether via a gateway or by opening a link to the hub from a Kaiser email, the organization will know they engaged with the resource and can then follow up.