Kaiser Permanente's New CMO Dr. Patrick Courneya: Q&A on Quality Goals for One of America's Most Integrated Health Systems

Patrick CourneyaLast week, Oakland, California-based Kaiser Permanente named Patrick Courneya, MD, executive vice president and Chief Medical Officer of Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. Dr. Courneya will begin this new role starting May 5, 2014.

Dr. Courneya has served for the last 10 years as the medical director and associate medical director for HealthPartners Health Plan based in Bloomington, Minnesota. He is also a family practice physician and serves as chair of the America's Health Insurance Plans' (AHIP) Chief Medical Officer Leadership Council and as chair of the Alliance of Community Health Plans’ Medical Director Council.

Here, Dr. Courneya shares his visions of healthcare and goals for his new role with Kaiser Permanente.

Note: Answers were edited for length and clarity.

Question: Why did you decide to pursue this position with Kaiser Permanente?

Dr. Patrick Courneya: There's so much happening in the health care industry in the next five years that we're presented with remarkable challenges and opportunities. There is also a real sense of obligation to do a better job serving the patients and members that come to us for their care, and also making sure people have access to affordable care when they need it. Seeing the marvelous work that Kaiser Permanente has done over the years to address these issues and recognizing the influence the organization could have on the future of health care across the nation, I saw it as an opportunity that was exciting and interesting and that I wanted to be a part of it.

Q: What goals do you hope to accomplish?

PC: There are a great many capabilities Kaiser Permanente has developed, such as their electronic medical record system, called Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect.  As an integrated health care system, this powerful tool helps Kaiser Permanente gain insight into what's happening with their patients and creates effective, positive spaces where patients can interact with their health care providers and access information needed to help them achieve their personal health goals. It's an exciting time, and one of my top goals will be to make sure Kaiser Permanente continues to advance its use of the assets that it has, which I think will have a really big impact on how care can continue to be more facilitative and patient-centered. I also want to support care that uses resources as efficiently and effectively as possible, and to do it in such a way that clearly reinforces the high degree of clinical quality excellence that we strive for and that our members and patients deserve.

Q: What are some of the key quality measures and initiatives you think are most important?

PC: One of our challenges right now is that the health care industry as a whole has so many measures and initiatives that it becomes difficult to grab hold of any one. However, the measures that I've found most compelling at this stage in the development of quality measurements are those related to the management of chronic diseases — like heart disease and diabetes — because there are so many factors that require attention. These factors drive health care providers and organizations to be very creative and to connect very effectively with patients so we can help support them when and where they need it in order to achieve their health goals. I don't think Kaiser Permanente is that far away from helping patients and members bridge to a total health approach. The organization is going to be able to articulate what we've done in terms of quality into measures that are more meaningful to patients; for example, monitoring hemoglobin A1C. That measure might be compelling to us, but it doesn't resonate a great deal with a patient. How can Kaiser Permanente demonstrate that we've had a significant impact on patients' ability to effectively pursue their life goals? We'll have to pay attention to all the details that in sum create outcomes that are measurable and important to patients.

Q: How will your background in family medicine and your other chair appointments assist you in your new position?

PC: I've continued to have a very close connection with what it takes to actually do the work at the front line, and I have a very deep respect for the work our teams at HealthPartners and at Kaiser Permanente are doing to serve their patients. If you come to the conversations about improving health and healthcare with a deep respect for the teams responsible for partnering with patients, then you can really tap into the intrinsic motivations, the heart that people bring to their work. With that kind of understanding, you can really make great progress. The other part is that as a family physician, it's important for me to do that job well, to know what I do well and to know when I need the expertise of other partners. Coming to the relationships that I want to develop with that sense of humility and curiosity has been very important in the work that I do and will be important as I take on this great opportunity with Kaiser Permanente.

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