What's Next for Kaiser Permanente? How About a Medical School?

Plans call for enrolling the first students in the of 2019, in a location in Southern California that will be named later.

If a fully integrated health plan, delivery system, and research arm weren’t enough, Kaiser Permanente is ready to take the next step: training the doctors who will embrace its approach to 21st century healthcare.

Kaiser announced today it will open its own medical school in time to enroll students in the fall of 2019. The plan involves redesigning physician education around its vision for high-quality health, while addressing both the overall shortage of primary care doctors and especially minority physicians. Concepts of teamwork, collaboration, and dealing with disparities in healthcare will be central to the school’s mission, said Bernard J. Tyson, Kaiser Permanente chairman and CEO.

“Opening a medical school and influencing physician education is based on our belief that the new models of care mean we must reimagine how physicians are trained,” said Tyson. “Training a new generation of physicians to deliver on the promise of health and health care demonstrates our belief that our model of care is best for the current and future diverse populations in this country.”

Edward M. Ellison, MD, a national Permanente leader and executive who is taking a lead role in the new Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine, said graduates will be change agents wherever they go. “When fully realized, the school will enhance the health care provided nationwide and beyond as the newly graduated physicians bring to bear their training and knowledge wherever they choose to practice.”

The move comes amid a recognition of a shortage of primary care doctors as more patients seek care, many for the first time, because they now have coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act. As this happens, there is a need for physicians who can address the growing gaps between health conditions of the wealthy and well-educated and the poor who have gone years without care. This is especially true in California, where physicians and those in training must navigate an environment of vast cultural and economic diversity.

In a statement, Kaiser Permanente said it will create a legal entity to build and manage the new school and launch the accreditation process. It will be physically located in Southern California, where there is great need and where there have been complaints that patients in Medicaid can often not find timely access to care.

Christine K. Cassel, MD, the president and CEO of the National Quality Forum, will take part in the design of the program to train the new physicians. Both Tyson and Cassel were among the contributors to the 20th anniversary series in The American Journal of Managed Care, which looked aspects of how the healthcare delivery system has evolved since the journal’s founding.