Kaiser’s “Thrive Local” Will Matter


Last month, Kaiser Permanente announced the launch of a new initiative called Thrive Local. The ambitious project is aimed at better addressing the social determinants of health (SDOH) of their 12.3 million members, as well as the 68 million people living in the communities they serve. To do this, Kaiser is partnering with Unite Us, an innovative healthcare technology firm offering a software platform designed to coordinate information and communication between healthcare organizations and social care providers. For people like me, who are working to improve how healthcare addresses SDOH needs, this is a big deal. Kaiser is starting with a pilot group in Oregon this summer and has committed to expanding the program to all members within three years. This will undoubtedly provide great value to those who carry a Kaiser member card, but also matters to the US healthcare system as a whole for three big reasons: 

  1. Lack of coordination between healthcare organizations and community service providers is a major barrier to making improvements in addressing SDOH. This initiative will provide a visible way to address and overcome that barrier. 

  2. The Unite Us platform is specifically built by healthcare and social service providers. The program will expose the value of integrating historically disparate groups with a solution designed from their combined perspective. 

  3. Kaiser is Kaiser. They are big, influential, and great at attracting media attention. Because they are doing this, other healthcare organizations are likely to follow their lead. 

Lack of Coordination 

The current integration between healthcare providers and social care is lacking. In our SDOH work at Spring Street Exchange, we acutely feel the gap. Healthcare organizations can become so consumed with their day-to-day work that they fail to take the time to develop a systematic, diligent approach to connecting with social care providers. All too often, healthcare organizations refer their members to social services but are not able to share key data between parties, and they do not have a mechanism to follow up and track program adherence and results. Kaiser’s partnership with Unite Us could spark integration of data and services between these two worlds.

Unite Us Platform 

The Unite Us Platform integrates social screening questions used by healthcare organizations. Then it tracks what social services the respondents actually used and determines whether those services were successful in improving health. One of the most important features of the Unite Us platform is that it allows for bi-directional information flow between the providers and the client, thus improving communication and coordination. Unite Us also provides a dashboard for outcome tracking to help healthcare and social services organizations see what is working and what needs improvements. 

Kaiser Being Kaiser 

Kaiser Permanente is the largest managed care organization (MCO) in the United States. It has a long history of emphasis on preventive medicine*, paying physicians salaries (and thus eliminating incentives for fee-for-service), and moving patients away from high-cost hospitals into outpatient care. Because of its size, innovative approach, and long history, Kaiser is an influential and powerful entity in healthcare. This public commitment by Kaiser to address SDOH needs creates a competitive environment that demands that others follow suit.

• • • • •

If Thrive Local proves to be a catalyst for a new model of improved integration between healthcare and social care providers, it is likely to be good for everyone. Improving care coordination and information means we’ll have better data from which to identify social interventions that result in both improved health and lower costs. This model could help government and the healthcare industry prioritize spending on social services. And it will be good for the millions of people in the United States who have social needs. The people that don’t have access to healthy food, don’t have a ride to get to the doctor, live in dilapidated housing, or suffer from social isolation can truly benefit from this kind of support.  The new paradigm could irreversibly improve their quality of life. Here’s hoping. 

 Hendricks, Rickey (1993). A Model for National Health Care: The History of Kaiser Permanente. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. pp. 13–17. ISBN 978-0813519296.

Top pic source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/taedc/27215731671; CC license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/