First U.S. Insurer to Build Medical School

April 14, 2016
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medical schoolWhen it comes to HMOs, it doesn’t get much bigger than Kaiser Permanente. When they make a move, the medical establishment takes notice. But their latest announcement was a bold one – the Oakland, CA based firm is launching a medical school.

medical schoolWhen it comes to HMOs, it doesn’t get much bigger than Kaiser Permanente. When they make a move, the medical establishment takes notice. But their latest announcement was a bold one – the Oakland, CA based firm is launching a medical school.

It makes business sense for several reasons. First, top-level Kaiser medical executives have said that after hiring a new physician, it takes about a year for them to adjust and operate efficiently within the Kaiser system. By schooling its own doctors, Kaiser would be able to eliminate that inefficiency. New doctors who graduate from the Kaiser system will likely incorporate much more easily, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The details are sketchy – it hasn’t selected a site for the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine, which would enroll its first class in 2019, with an opening class of 46 students. The program is being designed by Christine K. Cassel, MD and CEO of the National Quality Forum. The training will focus around  “strategic pillars,” which include providing quality care beyond traditional medical settings, emphasizing collaboration for treatment decisions, and addressing disparities in health access.

The new medical school reflects the innovative way Kaiser does business.

BisNow suggests “the medical school’s curriculum will reflect Kaiser’s commitment to rapid adoption of new technology, adherence to evidence-based medicine, and Kaiser chairman and chief executive Bernard Tyson’s strong belief that educating doctors around a coordinated care model could cure what ails the US medical system.”

The proposed school has its detractors as well. “Kaiser is clearly making a statement that they want to train doctors in their culture, philosophy and way of delivering care,” Steve Valentine, vice president and West Coast consulting leader at health care company Premier Inc., told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/1UEW6I0).

“I’d rather have a physician who went to a real medical school and who is focused on what’s the best treatment for this patient,” stated Scott Glovsky, a Pasadena attorney who has represented patients suing Kaiser over denials of care, told the Times. “Kaiser limits creativity in the art of medicine.”

How well will physicians be prepared to work in non-Kaiser facilities? No one knows.

Kaiser operates 38 hospitals across the US, owns a couple hundred clinics, and issues paychecks for almost 18,000 doctors at its medical groups. Nearly 80% of its 10.2 million members are in California, but Kaiser operates in Washington DC, and eight states.

“Opening a medical school and influencing physician education is based on our belief that the new models of care mean we must re-imagine how physicians are trained,” said Bernard J. Tyson, chairman and CEO, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals. “Training a new generation of physicians to deliver the promise of health and health care demonstrates our belief that our model of care is best for current and future diverse populations in this country.”

UC Riverside School of Medicine Dean Neal L. Schiller suggests that the need for another medical school is present because there aren’t enough physicians, particularly in some areas of the country. According to Schiller, “The demand for more doctors is increasing because the Affordable Care Act gave more Americans health insurance and also because a high percentage of those practicing are nearing retirement age.”

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