'We're inviting you to linger': Kaiser tests new approaches to the patient experience

'This is more than a physician visit, this is about your total health,' CEO says

Kaiser Permanente is opening up 10 "health hubs" in Southern California over the next 18 months to test innovations it hopes to apply to the rest of its health system, Adam Bluestein reports for Fast Company.

The medical offices will test new approaches to the entire patient experience, from the reception area to the exam room. Kaiser CEO and Chair Bernard Tyson says the changes are aimed at "creat[ing] a holistic experience" for the patient "where this organization is showing you care, compassion, and respect—and giving you all the medical information that you need."

The 10 hubs will each have unique aspects while also sharing several common features.

Rethinking the reception area

The reception areas will allow patients and visitors to check in via electronic kiosks or with a "tablet-wielding receptionist," Bluestein reports.

They'll also feature common tables and lounge-like seating, which are intended to encourage interactions between patients while they wait. And when a physician is ready to see them, patients can be notified via text alert.

Kaiser is also bringing an emphasis on preventive care and patient education to the reception area. Some of its hubs will have vitals stations to allow patients to measure their heart rate and blood pressure.

Its facilities will also have a "Thrive Bar," inspired by Apple's Genius Bar, where patients can receive no-cost advice from experts on nutrition, exercise, and other wellness issues.

The larger health hubs will have reception areas "reimagined as a kind of public square," Bluestein writes, in which patents will be able to walk around and even take part in cooking demonstrations, yoga classes, and other programs offered both indoors and outdoors.

Reimagining the exam room

In their exam rooms, the hubs will reflect the emphasis on patients by focusing the room around a spacious leather examination chair in the middle of the room.

The chairs take up less space than a table, and they also allow patients to sit eye-to-eye with their physicians, who can use a wall-mounted touch screen to pull up lab and X-ray results. The screens can also be used for video consultations with specialists.

At the Manhattan Beach hub, doctors will be able to use tablets to order prescriptions to an on-site pharmacy.

Reconsidering the context of care

The largest hub, set to open in a Los Angeles neighborhood in June 2017, will be more than 100,000 square feet and include a two-mile walking path, a garden, and conference and event spaces. By comparison, the recently opened hub in in Manhattan Beach is about 8,000 square feet.

At hubs both large and small, Tyson says Kaiser is shifting from the "culture of health care [that] has been to get you in and out" of the medical office. "We're inviting you to linger," Tyson says. "This is more than a physician visit; this is about your total health."

How to design a health care facility—when health care keeps changing

Saving money

Kaiser also intends for the hubs to reduce costs. They are designed to increase efficiency and are projected to increase the number of in-person patient visits per exam room by 20 to 40 percent. Kaiser also projects the hubs will save 10 percent in square-footage costs because of their floor designs, technological innovations, and redesigned workflows.

Kaiser already conducts millions of telehealth appointments per year with members, and Tyson expects the hubs to provide even more value as such appointments increase.

Tyson says his system's focus on the patient experience gives it a competitive advantage. "Most of the industry still has a hard time thinking about patients as also consumers," he says. "We try to demonstrate the possibilities" (Bluestein, Fast Company, 3/22; Budryk, FierceHealthcare, 3/22).

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