Posts Tagged ‘Healthy Lifestyle programs’

Permanente traditions advance with total health assessment campaign

posted on December 29, 2010

By Ginny McPartland 

Longshoremen line up for their health assessment or "physical" in 1961

I recently took an online total health assessment (THA) through the healthy lifestyles program on Kaiser Permanente’s members Web site, kp.org. This was my second time (in three years) so I knew the drill: answer quite a few questions about my health and lifestyle habits and find out where I stand health-wise. I did it for me, but I had another motive. By taking the assessment, I earned $50 for charity.

When I first heard Kaiser Permanente was offering its employees a $50-to-charity incentive to take the THA, I wasn’t that impressed. I didn’t think the donation would convince people to participate in KP’s initiative to build a healthier workforce. I also didn’t think $50 would go that far. I have to admit I was WRONG!

By mid-December, more than 22,000 (14.5%) KP employees nationwide had taken the THA and by that small action collectively raised an impressive $1.1 million. Now that will go a long way. How far? For starters, each $50 could buy 700 pounds of fruits and vegetables or 77 dozen eggs for the hungry. Or it could provide 10 pediatric flu shots for needy kids. Multiply those items by 22,000 donors and you get the picture. 

The money raised by the 2010 THA incentive program will go to community healthy eating initiatives and to support health care for disadvantaged people and families, especially the homeless, the disabled and those living with HIV/AIDS.  The KP region whose employees raise the most money will receive an extra $50,000 for charities in their communities. The winner will be announced in January; the money will be awarded in March.* 

1951 brochure announcing Longshoremen assessment program. Image courtesy of the ILWU.

I think it says something about the KP culture that so many employees were motivated to raise money for others less fortunate than themselves. If they hadn’t felt compelled to take the assessment for their own sake, they were motivated to help others. Of course, Kaiser Permanente has given millions to good causes over the years through its Community Benefit programs.†

Total health assessment by any other name

Given our history as a preventive care organization, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that Kaiser Permanente has been a champion of the total health assessment for over 60 years. In 1950, such an assessment was called the “multiphasic examination,” and it was initiated when labor leader Harry Bridges of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) demanded it for all members of the union. 

The ILWU members lined up at the waterfront for preventive clinics that included blood and urine screening tests, chest X-ray, electrocardiogram, and other tests to search for chronic disease. Each member also completed a health questionnaire similar to today’s THA. The recording and archiving of test results became the impetus for Kaiser Permanente to acquire its first computers in 1960. 

These records, still accessible today, have supported long-term health research related to heart disease and other chronic diseases. One such study, “Characteristics of Longshoremen Related to Fatal Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke” by Paffenbarger et al., was published in the “American Journal of Public Health,” in 1971. 

Robert Feldman, MD, and Sidney Garfield, MD, confer on the health assessment program launched in the late 1960s.

In the late 1960s, Permanente founding physician Sidney Garfield launched a program called “The Total Health Care Project” to expand the multiphasic programs in Oakland and San Francisco. Garfield and Robert Feldman, MD, hired and trained KP’s first nurse practitioners to run the program that included the use of computerized lab machines that yielded results while the patient was still at the clinic. Their goal was to collect baseline health data that could be used to identify health risks and to prevent disease. 

Today’s iteration of the multiphasic exam is a system of chronic disease screening programs designed to detect symptoms early and identify risk factors. The total health assessment questionnaire challenges participants to scrutinize their lifestyles and work with their doctors to figure ways to head off diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. 

For me, the THA results are a reminder of what I need to do to stay healthy. I’m also hoping I can improve my sleep by following through with the online insomnia program. But most of all, I feel glad that my co-workers saw fit to get involved for themselves and to raise money to improve the health of others less fortunate. 

*Benefit-eligible Kaiser Permanente employees and physicians may earn the $50 charitable donation by taking the THA by Dec. 31.  Go to the Healthy Workforce site to participate. 

†Click here for more information about Kaiser Permanente’s Community Benefit Program

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