More than 60 years ago, our founder Morris F. Collen, MD, recognized the potential of combining the power of information technology with clinical care and sophisticated data analytics. Since its inception in 1961, Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research has become internationally respected for research that transforms health by discovering the key drivers of health and disease, and identifying effective and efficient ways to deliver health care.
The Division is one of the nation’s largest research facilities outside of a government or university setting. We are the primary professional home of more than 60 research scientists and 600 staff members who lead studies in epidemiology, health services, and clinical trials. Our studies cover a wide range of clinical topics, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, substance abuse, mental health, maternal and child health, and women’s health. Our research addresses broad issues, including the role of genes and the environment in health, the influence of behavior on disease prevention and chronic illness management, drug safety, health care policy, health services delivery, and disparities. We have almost 400 ongoing projects and contribute more than 500 scientific papers to peer-reviewed journals each year.
The Division’s work is funded primarily by federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The Permanente Medical Group and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan’s Community Benefit Program are our major internal sponsors.
Partnerships and collaboration are a hallmark of our work. We provide crucial support to physician researchers from The Permanente Medical Group, and we collaborate with researchers from other regions of Kaiser Permanente, other organizations in the Health Care Systems Research Network, federal and state agencies, and academic institutions across the country. Of particular note are our rich collaborative relationships with academic centers in the Bay Area, including the University of California, San Francisco; Stanford University School of Medicine; and the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health.
The Division derives its power from being a research enterprise embedded in a large, technologically sophisticated, integrated health care system. Our research program is built on a base of rigorous epidemiologic investigation in a diverse population. As a pioneer in electronic medical records, Kaiser Permanente created a ‘natural resource’ for research, with rich data that spans decades of care for millions of people. An exemplar is our landmark CARDIA study, which has 30 years of patient follow-up and continues today. The diverse participants recruited in 1986 have enabled us to identify early-life risk factors for heart disease later in life.
We continue to build on the visionary work in clinical informatics initiated by Dr. Collen. Clinical informatics enables us to harness Kaiser Permanente’s rich data for studies that benefit both our own patients and other people worldwide. Through informatics, we are developing new clinical decision-support tools that help physicians in the clinic and at the bedside. Via our work using predictive analytics, we use data to establish the best approaches to current medical problems and identify opportunities to intervene today to avoid problems in the future. One example is an early warning system we created to alert physicians to a hospital patient’s potential deterioration hours in advance, enabling the doctor to intervene immediately, lowering both the mortality rate for these individuals and their average length of stay in the hospital.
Kaiser Permanente embeds research within a real-life health care setting, which benefits both our health care delivery and our science. Delivery science evaluates new interventions or practices that may benefit patients, and it also supports the systematic adoption of effective interventions into daily practice at large scale. Investigators and fellows in the Division of Research work on the cutting edge of delivery science, partnering directly with Kaiser Permanente physicians and clinical operations leaders to develop and implement innovative research and quality improvement projects for patient care. Through our Delivery Science Program, we address critical issues in priority areas such as enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of specialty services; understanding and overcoming barriers to effective health care; addressing racial/ethnic disparities in health care; and introducing pioneering informatics approaches to health care delivery.
The Division of Research has the distinct advantage of being embedded within a vigorous organization whose social mission includes producing knowledge about health and health care that benefits society as well as our own members. Our strengths in scientific talent and our natural resources in terms of rich data ensure our ability to produce high-impact research. Our close relationships with clinical and program leaders stimulate creativity and deepen our perspectives. We are a complex and evolving ecosystem, with diverse skills and interests that enrich our collective scientific imagination as well as our robustness as an institution.