Mobile Health-The Kaiser Way-An Interview with Bernard Tyson

By Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA

A Candid Interview with Bernard Tyson

Bernard J. Tyson for Guest Post Bernard J Tyson_2012

Bernard J. Tyson

“It’s something our members wanted, they have it and they love it,” said Kaiser Permanente’s President and CEO Bernard J. Tyson, in a recent telephone interview. The “it” Mr. Tyson is referring to is the digital technology that allows Kaiser Permanente members to email their physicians. To date, there are “14 million e-visits,” he said, and members gain access via a free Smartphone mobile app.

Digital technology

This digital technology builds relationships with physicians, Mr. Tyson said. The mobile app model allows patients to build a relationship with their physician, establish that relationship and then it’s driven by the members working with his/her physicians through online technology, he added. Members email their physicians with questions; they can make appointments and access lab results. It’s driven from members perspectives. “I did three e-visits with questions for my physician.” The e-visit allowed me to have direct interaction with my physician, he said. And, if I needed to see my physician, I’d make an appointment online.

Privacy and security

Protecting patients’ information in a digital world is paramount. Privacy is a concern and when asked if there have been any issues with privacy and security, Mr. Tyson said, “No.”

The biggest area of focus is making sure it’s encrypted, secure and password coded, he said. Patient confidentiality is a concern and we make sure records are secure, he added. We have additionally security for screening. “There’s an electronic fingerprint, so we will always know who actually went in to the record.” He added, “The whole issue of patient confidentiality is from the public perspective, making sure their records are secure, and only used by the authorized person. We take this very seriously and we make sure our records remain secure as humanly possible.”

Biggest challenge of digital technology

Digital technology is transforming health care and patients are accessing their doctors digitally. The biggest challenge of digital technology (e-visits), said Mr. Tyson, is that Kaiser’s physicians are already putting in full days. “Now our physicians are working ten, twelve hours, and then they go home and they may work another couple hours to catch up on emails.” There’s an increase in demand, but that’s a challenge, not a drawback, he said. “But it’s an opportunity for technology for being readily available.” There are no incentives for physicians to email their patients, all physicians at Kaiser participate and engage with patients e-visits. There are 4.2 million of the 9 million members registered, and 32 million lab results have been viewed online, according to Mr. Tyson, and there have been 118 million visits to And over 12 million prescriptions have been filled via technology.

Emailing with physicians may prevent an unnecessary visit so patients “love it,” said Mr. Tyson. This is part of our connected care.


Since members are already emailing their physicians, the natural progression moves to telehealth.

“We’re doing telehealth now. Because of our unique model, we can actually do it in home settings and in our outpatient medical facilities.” For example, “we may have a specialist on the east coast and we have a patient who has some rare something that we want this specialist to take a look at; we can now do it via telehealth.” We have the capability to doing telehealth around dermatology, he said. “With the precision of high definition, it’s incredible what we’re able to do with telehealth.”

Physicians want to maintain visual contact with the patient, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the patient needs to come in for a doctor’s visit each and every time.

Concept to Design

Kaiser is at the cutting edge of innovation and technology. At their “innovation warehouse” known as The Garfield Innovation Center, they conceptualize ideas and design a plan. It’s their living laboratory. Mr. Tyson says it’s like an old James Bond movie where they have this innovative site with all the gadgets like OO7. At the Garfield Innovation Center they do all their innovation around care redelivery and we build modules inside this big warehouse. “We have a history of being cutting-edge with innovation and technology,” he said. “This technology has been an enabler.” He playfully spoke about watching robotic surgery at the West LA site, saying it looked like he was watching a “gameboy.”

Designing the medical home of the future is being tackled at their innovative warehouse.

Mr. Tyson talked about the interactive refrigerator. When you touch the refrigerator it tells you your calorie count, what’s in there, and what you should be eating, he said. It provides you with information to help you make smart choices in life. “It provides an incredible opportunity to provide health information.” You may take a tour here.

Mobile App Trends

The very first question I asked Bernard Tyson dealt with mobile apps. I asked him if physicians are prescribing health apps to their patients. “It depends on the population they’re caring for,” he said. “I believe strongly that as physicians and other caregivers continue to think about how to add value to a person who’s seeking to remain healthy; they’re going to be looking for tools and techniques that allow the person to self-directed care when they are not in the direct care of the physician.” Investors are putting a lot of money into this. Things like Fitbit, Jawbone and gadgets for walking, sleeping and exercise; this will be trending in mobile technology, he said. (More on Kaiser’s launch of an open API called Interchange in a future post. Interchange allows app developers to use Kaiser’s publicly available information for their own use.)


“In the future, you’ll see how technology will support a person who has chronic diseases,” he added. For patients with complex demands there will be medication management, appointment management and reminders for patients to take their pills.

“This is a great opportunity for the health care industry,” said Mr. Tyson. “It’s very fragmented as an industry.”  It allows for silos to come together and for integration and coordination.

“At Kaiser Permanente it’s “not the ‘we wish,’ ‘we believe,’ ‘it’ll be happening,’ we’re doing it at Kaiser,” said Mr. Tyson. “The future is here,” he added, it’s about “how to help a person live a healthy life, not to just keep coming to Kaiser Permanente.”

I enjoyed speaking with Mr. Bernard Tyson. His energy and enthusiasm for technology is evident.  Having leaders at the helm willing to take the leap because they know it’s the “now” not “someday” approach helps create positive change.  Kaiser is one of the leaders in health care and other health systems can learn from them.

Kaiser Permanente is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health plans, serving more than 9.1 million members, with headquarters in Oakland, Calif. It comprises:  Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and their subsidiaries, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., The Permanente Medical Groups.  The operating revenue in 2012- $50.6 billion and 12, 286,684 secure emails have been sent to physicians and clinicians.


Your turn

Does your organization implement secure online physician emailing?  If you are a patient, do you email your physician?  Please share your experience in the comment section below.  As always, thank you for sharing your insightful thoughts and for your very valuable time.

Connect with me | Stay in touch



You May Also Like

Leave a Reply