Kaiser Permanente, the managed health care giant that now offers patients an integrated system combining insurance, hospitals and outpatient physicians, is adding a Southern California medical school to its portfolio, the company announced Thursday.
The nonprofit HMO, based in Oakland, Calif., will open the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine in 2019. No specific site has been selected.
“This is a natural evolution for us,” Kaiser’s CEO Bernard Tyson said in an interview. “We are very motivated in being part of the transformation of the entire health care ecosystem.”
Kaiser says it will base physician training on “strategic pillars,” including providing care beyond traditional medical settings, emphasizing collaboration and teamwork and addressing health disparities.
Kaiser, which serves 10.2 million members, is known for providing coordinated care in a technology-driven environment. It was an early adopter of electronic health records and uses its system to reach patients with basic and complex medical needs.
Kaiser says it is committed to attracting a diverse pool of students “to better reflect the communities we serve,” said Dr. Edward Ellison, executive director of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group.
In a major analysis last year, Kaiser was cited as closing the race gap in managing heart disease and diabetes, diseases which account for much of the reason African Americans have shorter life expectancies than Caucasians.
The HMO has long been involved in medical education — but at the residency level. It trains more than 600 residents every year.
Kaiser’s move is unusual. The nation’s 145 medical schools are mostly affiliated with universities, although the Mayo Medical School campus operates within the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
“There are precedents, but this will be different,” John Prescott, chief academic officer with the American Association of Medical Colleges, said of Kaiser’s new school. “It’s an integrated health care system that’s looking at developing a medical school. I think there will be some surprises as the school unfolds.”
Prescott said the school will need to be accredited and that process could take several years. Twenty new medical schools have opened in the U.S. since 2002, he said, and many of them feature “innovative models,” he said.
Still, building a new medical school is “fraught with risk,” said John Deane, president of Advisory Board Consulting and Management. He said it could be a “huge waste of money” if Kaiser were to replicate the existing model of specialty-focused academic medical centers.
“On the other hand,” he said, “they have an opportunity to do this in a new and different way that could be a form of disruptive innovation that could become a new standard for teaching doctors.”
Tyson and Ellison both seemed focused on innovation.
“I’m as interested and motivated and part of the sponsorship of this 21st century new medical school if I were a physician myself,” Tyson said.