Kaiser Permanente’s self-help handbook

posted on November 28, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


healthwise1-medIn the 1970s, people sought to take back control of their communities and their bodies from a medical establishment they considered racist, sexist, and generally not helpful to a multitude of Americans.

A seminal tract in this emerging “self-help” movement, Women and Their Bodies, was published in 1970, followed by a revised version called Our Bodies, Our Selves in 1971. By 1973, it was so popular that Simon & Schuster published the first commercial, expanded edition. It has since been translated into 30 languages, with millions of copies in print.

It was in that context that Healthwise, an Idaho nonprofit, was founded in 1975 by Don Kemper, MPH (who retired this year), with a simple mission: “Help people make better health decisions.” The next year it published the first Healthwise Handbook.

Kaiser Permanente worked with Healthwise to publish its own version of the Healthwise Handbook: A Self-Care Guide For You And Your Family, in 1994. It was a cornerstone of Kaiser Permanente’s Self-Care Program, designed to give people the skills and information necessary to safely identify and treat minor health problems at home.

healthwise2-medThe format for all maladies, from asthma to tick bites to depression, includes a description of what to look for, how to prevent it, home treatment options, and when to call Kaiser Permanente.

In 2000, the Kaiser Permanente Healthwise Handbook was honored with a silver award from the National Health Information Awards program for the publication’s consumer health information. The Spanish version of the handbook, La Salud En Casa: Guia Practica de Healthwise y Kaiser Permanente, received a bronze award. The handbooks were chosen for having the best consumer health information in the Health Promotion/Disease and Injury Prevention Information class.

The Healthwise Knowledgebase self-help medical encyclopedia was an early health resource featured on Kaiser Permanente Online, and later print editions offered a broad range of links to key self-care resources, such as the Kaiser Permanente Healthphone, KP Online, and other recommended health websites. In Northern California, primary care physicians and staff were issued two copies along with tips on how to encourage members to use the Handbook. And in 2001, in partnership with the California State Library, Kaiser Permanente donated a collection of Healthwise Handbooks to every public library in the state.


Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/2fKeIu1

Special thanks to Kaiser Permanente physician Dr. Stephen Tarzynski for donating this title to the Kaiser Permanente archives, and to librarian Thomas Shreves for facilitating that transfer.

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4 Responses to “Kaiser Permanente’s self-help handbook”

  1. Lisa Killen says:

    This brings back great memories of working on the first KP Healthwise Handbooks in the mid 1990s!

  2. Joe DiMilia says:

    Thank you for posting this article and I want to add the names of some of the individuals who lead this work.

    Dr. Steven Friedman and Pamela Larson, Health Education Chief in Fairfield and NCAL Regional Health Education Director, respectively, saw this project through from inception to dissemination. I had the pleasure to work with Pam at KP.org for many years after, until her retirement this year.

    The self-help handbook was a truly pioneering KP effort that every other Health Plan adopted, once Pam and Steve proved its cost effectiveness.

  3. Christine Ridgeway says:

    I still have and consult mine!!
    Christie in Colorado

  4. Brinda Grapin says:

    Are these still available? I used to have one and it was great!

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