by Martha Heller

Kaiser Permanente’s digital transformation is creating a healthier America

Jun 26, 2019
CIODigital TransformationHealthcare Industry

Kaiser Permanente uses technology to improve personal health, community health, and medical excellence. EVP and CIO Dick Daniels explains how they do it.

Electronic Health Records [EHR] / digital medical data / stethoscope, mobile phone
Credit: millionsjoker / Getty Images

When Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Bernard J. Tyson announced the healthcare provider’s mission to “improve not only the health of our members, but also that of our communities,” Dick Daniels, executive vice president and CIO, knew technology would be a major driver in achieving that ambitious goal. Daniels, who has been EVP and CIO of Kaiser Permanente since 2015, shared with me his thoughts on how technology is helping the organization be a transformational agent for health and healthcare in America.

Martha Heller: What does transformation mean to Kaiser Permanente?

Dick Daniels: For the past year, we have been working on a strategy to build a healthier America with a focus on key areas, three of which are personal health, community health, and medical excellence.   

How are you using technology in these areas?

Personal health:

We want our members to experience Kaiser Permanente as a simple, easy, personal, and caring way for them to lead their healthiest lives. Our work in digital is critical to achieving this goal. Whether a member interfaces with us in person, over the telephone, or through an app, we want them to have informed choices so that they can maximize their health.

dick daniels kaiser permanente Kaiser Permanente

Dick Daniels, EVP and CIO, Kaiser Permanente

Over the last 12 months, the transaction volume on our website,, and on our mobile app has grown by double digits in every dimension, including online appointments, prescription refills, and secure physician emails. With that success, we are now going beyond the transaction level to create more engaging care experiences.

For example, we are improving our capabilities around video visits, where members can videoconference with their doctor from their personal device. We have that capability today; our plan is to maximize it. We are also just starting to pilot concepts around a digital twin that will use alerts to create the behavioral changes to help members meet their health goals. It is early days for the digital twin, because the app needs to be easily configurable and use personalization in a highly secure environment.  

Community health:

In addition to helping members with their personal health, a key part of our agenda is to address some of the social and environmental determinants of health. We’ve just launched Thrive Local, a comprehensive, social health network that will give our members access to social services such as housing, food, safety, and utilities. We are using APIs to interface with a network of providers so that, with permission, we can exchange member data.

Medical excellence:

We are also using technology to drive medical excellence. We are already working on solutions for remote patient monitoring, where patients use FDA-certified wearables so that their physicians can monitor them remotely.

For example, we recently introduced a cardiac rehabilitation solution. After a person has a cardiac event, we provide them with a watch to monitor their activities, such as exercise, based upon instructions from their physician. A mobile app monitors patient activity through the watch, and that data comes back to Kaiser Permanente, so that the cardiologist can monitor the patient’s progress. The patients love it because it motivates them to follow instructions and heal better. As one patient said, “I can’t cheat!” 

What architectural changes have you made to support the transformation?

Last year, I laid out a three-year strategy for the IT organization:

  • Modernize our IT infrastructure for scalability and flexibility. We are leveraging cloud appropriately and moving our architecture toward micro-services and APIs to gain access to the data that is in our legacy systems.
  • Accelerating development. We want to increase speed to market for our business partners who are looking for new capabilities. We are implementing design thinking, utilizing DevOps, and delivering more functionality faster to increase our productivity.
  • Reliability and security. We are in healthcare, where security is a big concern. We are fortifying our infrastructure to protect against a constant barrage of security threats. At the same time, the organization is becoming more dependent on technology, so it is important that the technology be reliable, resilient, and robust.

What is the new culture or mindset you are building at Kaiser Permanente?

The culture is centered around our mission: to provide high-quality affordable healthcare to our members and the communities we serve. The mindset in IT is human-centered design. We are solving problems from a human perspective.

For example, we will have someone from IT lie in a hospital bed and go through the experience of contacting a nurse or taking medication. If we put an outlet behind the bed, how does it feel to have a nurse reach across your head to plug something in? Let’s move the outlet to another place to create a more comfortable experience for the patient.

We will ask someone in IT to go online to see their lab results. When you see those results, do you know what they mean? Why don’t we provide the normal range of results so that you can understand your own in context? We look at solutions from the human perspective first, then prototype, learn, and iterate. Once we have something viable, we scale the solution throughout the organization.

What tactics has the leadership team used to communicate Kaiser Permanente’s strategy?

Our workforce and member communities are very large, so our CEO, national executive team, regional presidents and executive medical directors are all involved. Probably the most important part of that communication effort has been in involving our workforce. We’ve held a series of sessions across all of our geographies where senior leaders meet with employees and answer questions. But in addition to engaging our employees’ heads, we also had to engage their hearts. 

So, we asked people to share their personal stories, if they wanted to. People talked about why they chose to work in healthcare and how they personally connected with our mission. Some people spoke live during our roadshows and others posted stories online. The key to driving this kind of transformation with a workforce this large is connecting their work to the mission: to allow people to live their healthiest lives.

Learn more about Kaiser Permanente’s digital innovation in this CIO Leadership Live interview with Dick Daniels: 

About Dick Daniels

Dick Daniels is executive vice president and CIO at Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Hospitals. He is responsible for the ongoing leadership of Kaiser Permanente’s information technology vision, strategy and execution, and he is a member of the national executive team. Previously, Daniels served as senior vice president of Enterprise Shared Services, which includes End User Services, National Facilities Services and National Pharmacy Operations. He joined Kaiser Permanente in May 2008 and has more than 30 years of shared services and information technology leadership experience. Before joining Kaiser Permanente, he served as senior vice president and divisional CIO for Capital One.

Daniels has a bachelor’s of applied arts and sciences degree from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University).