By Lincoln Cushing
What is the right way to reward creativity and hard work? What is an appropriate balance between corporate ownership and the public good? These issues form the root of copyright and patent law and have shifted over time and place.
Contrary to the practices of most major companies, however, Kaiser Permanente – and its earlier entity, Kaiser Industries – have long embraced the concept that sharing is not only good for the community, it’s responsible organizational practice.
On November 17, 1942, Henry J. Kaiser recommended that an independent federal agency be formed to license all new inventions and to distribute their benefits throughout industry.
His comments were published in many news outlets, including Billboard magazine’s December 1942 issue:
“Original ideas, suggestions and developments should be interchanged among allied industries, such as airplane (production) and shipbuilding and the steel industry,” Kaiser told a U.S. Senate military subcommittee studying technological mobilization.
He said he thought his position might be considered revolutionary, but added: “Industry will be more productive if patents are available to all industries able to use them. (After the war), compensation for their use should go to the individual as an incentive and not to the company that employs him (or her).”
Billboard’s article reported, “Workers in the Kaiser shipyards are encouraged to submit new ideas and techniques, and a prize is awarded each week for the best suggestion. In addition, the author of an accepted proposal works with an engineer in preparing sketches to illustrate an improved process.”
Kaiser told the committee that his industries made their data available to other builders, and likewise, he benefited from the findings of others.
Sharing tradition continues
That “revolutionary” position was not just a flash in the pan. Kaiser Permanente, Henry J. Kaiser’s most enduring legacy, has continued that tradition.
Kaiser Permanente’s fourth CEO, George Halvorson, who has led the organization since 2002, has long supported an open approach to innovation.
Some of these initiatives include:
The Care Connectivity Consortium includes Kaiser Permanente, the Mayo Clinic, Geisinger Health System of Pennsylvania, Intermountain Healthcare based in Utah, and Group Health Cooperative, based in Seattle.
The consortium is dedicated to developing systems that will allow seamless sharing of health information among provider groups.
The consortium is also committed to working toward a future where timely access to health information improves the quality of care for all patients.
The Partnership for Quality Care is a coalition of not-for-profit health care providers and health care workers dedicated to guaranteed, affordable, high-quality health care for every man, woman, and child in America. The partnership strives to improve patient care as well as prevent and treat chronic conditions by sharing best practices.
Members include Kaiser Permanente, several units of the Service Employees International Union, the Greater New York Hospital Association, Group Health Cooperative and HealthPartners in Minnesota.
In 2008, Kaiser Permanente CEO Halvorson noted: “Leading health care providers have already implemented programs that contain costs, expand access, and most importantly, improve the quality of care for chronic patients. That points the way to nationwide reform.”
Banding together to beat HIV
The HIV Interregional Initiative, a cooperative effort among all Kaiser Permanente regions and Group Health Cooperative, represents the second largest provider of integrated HIV care in the United States; the largest provider is the Veterans Administration.
Sponsors of the initiative are Kaiser Permanente Foundation Health Plan and The Permanente Federation, which represents the national interests of the Permanente Medical Groups.
The Care Management Institute, a partnership between the federation and the health plan, has developed the first clinical guidelines in the United States for HIV/AIDS treatment and the appropriate use of related drugs.
The HIV Interregional Initiative works with Kaiser Permanente’s national pharmacy purchasers to get the best prices for HIV drugs. Research using Kaiser Permanente’s electronic health records has led to exceptional success in treating patients with HIV.
In 2012, Robert Pearl, MD, executive director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, noted: “Our success in the treatment of patients with HIV/AIDS results from the excellence of our clinicians, our advanced [information technology] systems, our integrated delivery system and our effective coordination across specialties.”
Kaiser Permanente assists health care providers and community health clinics across the country in improving their HIV patient care by sharing its clinical best practices, provider and patient education materials, training and other expertise.
Genetic research for better chronic care
The Kaiser Permanente Research Program on Genes, Environment, and Health is one of the largest research projects in the United States to examine the genetic and environmental factors that can increase risk for chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease, and asthma.
With DNA collected from 500,000 consenting California health plan members, the project will link comprehensive electronic health records, data on relevant behavioral and environmental factors, as well as genetic information.
Working in collaboration with other scientists across the nation and around the world, researchers hope to translate project findings into improvements in preventive care and treatment.
Henry J. Kaiser started something in 1942 that continues to drive Kaiser Permanente’s quest, 71 years later, to improve health care and access to treatment for all Americans.