“The [Kaiser Permanente] medical care program was a significant social experiment and had the responsibility to be seriously introspective. If the medical care system was going to fulfill its social function, it would have to develop a health services research laboratory, providing data to the health services field.”
—Health Care Research in an HMO: Two Decades of Discovery,
ed. Merwyn R. Greenlick, Donald K. Freeborn, and Clyde R. Pope
Studying the practice and economics of health care is part of our DNA at the Center for Health Research. Our work in this area is diverse and cuts across many of our disciplines. We evaluate patient experience, treatment costs, provider practices, and new drugs and clinical protocols. We work closely with KP physicians to pioneer clinical interventions that translate more easily into practice.
This work is driven by a simple truth: advances in health care treatment and practice must be practical and cost-effective—both for the patient and the health care provider—in order to be viable.
Research on the economics of health care helps policy-makers decide how best to allocate resources to balance the needs of patients and health systems. When we evaluate a program to see whether it is working, finding out what it costs to deliver the program—or whether the program might actually save money—is an important part of the task. When health plans have accurate estimates of what a program or service costs, they can realistically decide whether to adopt it. Cost studies can also provide information that helps decision makers compare options.
CHR investigators have studied the cost impacts of a wide range of programs, such as flu vaccination programs, programs to screen donated blood, and group and Internet-based self-help programs. With funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers at CHR joined with America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) to demonstrate the economic value of smoking cessation. This project produced a simple tool that can help health plans and employers estimate how much they might save by implementing these programs. A more recent study found that Buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opiate addiction, is a viable alternative to other treatment approaches in integrated health systems, with total costs similar to abstinence-based counseling.