Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson Talks About How Tech Is Transforming Healthcare

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Written by Ann Brown
Kaiser Permanente
Photo: Kaiser Permanente

As CEO of integrated managed care consortium, Kaiser Permanente, Bernard Tyson is helping lead one of the largest U.S. organizations in applying technology to healthcare.

Kaiser Permanente provides healthcare to 12 million people with some 217,000 employees and 22,000 group physicians. Tyson is responsible for taking the company to the next level of advanced healthcare.

A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Tyson rose up the ranks at Kaiser Permanente during his more than 30 years with the company. He was president and chief operating officer of the company for two years, assuming the role of chairman in January 2014. He has served as CEO since 2013, making him the first African American to hold that position.

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Tyson has been known for pushing healthcare into the future and was named the third most influential person in healthcare by Modern Healthcare in 2015. In 2017, Time named him on its 100 Most Influential People list as a leading authority on public health in America. Tyson was also selected among Time Magazine’s 50 Most Influential People in Health Care for 2018.

The company is exploring how technology can be used to advance mental health care through data analysis and looking at suicide prevention through technology.

“We’ve started looking at data analytics and AI for early signals and signs for individuals who might be contemplating suicide….this is one of the critical subject areas we are looking at,” Tyson told CNBC’s Jon Fortt.

Tyson also spoke with Fortt about telehealth. “We’re pushing it already … We have already shown and are demonstrating that everyone doesn’t have to come in (to the doctor’s office) for everything. Through the use of digital technology…you can now do a secure visit with your physician…have a virtual visit,” said Tyson.

He added: “We’re very clear at Kaiser Permanente that health and healthcare are high-tech, high-touch. So when the touch is needed there are no barriers to getting our members in to see our physicians. What’s available now is options for access and that’s the benefit of the technology platform.”

But technology has gotten Kaiser into trouble. When the company used telehealth to tell a patient about his terminal illness, the story went viral.

“We invest heavily in technology and we do a lot with telehealth that complements the practice of medicine,” Tyson said, while also noting that technology has never been a substitute for “high-touch” healthcare. “That was not an accurate reflection of what happened,” Tyson said of the original reporting, as reported by Fierce Healthcare “As we have always said inside Kaiser Permanente, we believe in high tech and high touch.”

Tyson is now pushing to address homelessness and talks of investing $200 million to do so — a risky move “because it shows no immediate dividends,” Tyson told Modern Healthcare.

Tyson talked more about the company’s efforts to address homelessness. “The whole point is to have an economic engine to support the infrastructure needed to make sure that we don’t end up with anyone using the streets of America as their home,” he said.

“It’s going to require a lot of responsible investment to make sure our organization is actively engaged. We’re not just contributing resources, we are co-owning the problem. We have to partner with a lot of people, a lot of agencies and a lot of organizations.”

He added: “We don’t think that we’re coming in with a magic pill, but we are coming in with a strong commitment that we’re working to solve what we consider to be an unacceptable problem in the 21st century.

“This is not about being a social program, but being socially responsible for the greater good of the community, which impacts all of us. So it’s not about them, it’s about we.”