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2016 Director's Letter

Understanding Health and Transforming Health Care: Synergy in Research

​T​​he idea that research is integral to a lear​ning health care system has​​​ become au courant, but it’s far fro​m revolutionar​​y. Two of Kaiser Permanente’s founders, Sidney Garfield and Morrie Collen, considered research, clinical care, and teaching the three pillars of a great health care organization. Today, Kaiser Permanente is 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.​​

In 2016, the Division of Research continued to build on the synergy between two interlocking objectives in our research mission: understanding health and transforming health care. Let me offer three examples.

In cancer, our epidemiologists continued groundbreaking work in areas such as nutritional and social factors that influence survival after a breast cancer diagnosis. The decades of work our researchers have done to understand and develop our clinical data have been paying off in the clinical realm, with our research contributing a key element toward the commendations our Kaiser Permanente Northern California medical centers have earned en route to being accredited as cancer centers of excellence.

In cardiovascular disease, the landmark CARDIA study celebrated its 30th year of patient follow-up. (Above, third from left, Bernard J. Tyson, Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Hospitals; left, CARDIA principal investigator Stephen Sidney, MD, and study participants.) The diverse patients recruited by our team here in Northern California have enabled us to identify early-life risk factors for later cardiovascular disease. Our cardiovascular research portfolio extends to key clinical issues such as reducing disparities in hypertension and accurately predicting a patient’s risk of heart attack or stroke.

In behavioral health, we completed an innovative, NIH-sponsored study to engage patients receiving addiction treatment by using health information technology resources available in Kaiser Permanente’s electronic health record. This study’s successful approach is now being implemented regionwide, and is viewed as a model for intervention in related fields.

We have many more examples of synergy between epidemiology and health care delivery research in areas including women’s and children’s health, diabetes, and infectious diseases. I’m proud of our researchers’ success in obtaining external funding from the NIH and other important sponsors. At the same time, over the last few years, we have increased our internally funded work, enabling us to address key operational areas such as predictive analytics, which uses data to establish the best approaches to current medical problems and identify opportunities to intervene and avoid problems in the future. We also have increased our collaborations with physicians of The Permanente Medical Group via exciting new programs in delivery science – research that involves evaluating clinical or organizational practices that health care systems can implement or encourage.

Looking forward, our strengths in scientific talent, our natural resources in terms of rich data, and our relationships in a learning health care system ensure our ability to produce high-impact research. We have built synergy among the varied components of our research portfolio, and our diversity of skills and interests enriches our collective scientific imagination as well as our robustness as a research group.

Warm regards,


Tracy A. Lieu, MD, MPH

Director, Division of Research