TECH/HEALTH PLANS: A Permanente Group Executive speaks

There continues to be much flack in about the “email heard around the health care IT world” about Kaiser Permanente’s HealthConnect program and its success or lack or it, and its contribution or lack of it to a potential massive shortfall or profit  in the organization’s finances. If you want to know what lots of insiders and outsiders think, go read these comments on KP in this HISTalk post. Suffice it to say that there’s a wide, wide divergence of views on whether Epic is scalable or not, or if anything else would or could work. Given that this is America’s largest health care EMR deployment, it’s not a trivial issue.

But in addition there are wider rumblings that something is going awry at Kaiser Permanente. Given that it’s just coming out the other side (bar the lawsuits) of a scandal where something went very badly wrong in its new kidney transplant program in Northern California, this latest brou-ha-ha is more grist for the mill for the anti-KP folks. I am not one of those, and in fact have been criticized for being too supportive of pre-paid medicine in the past. But I call things the way I see them, and I don’t get any money from Kaiser. So I’m trying to remain “neutral” in what is a highly emotional issue.

Today Andy Wiesenthal, an Executive Director with the Permanente Federation, the umbrella group for the regional PMGs emailed me offering to go on the record. I told him that I would ask about HealthConnect, the kidney transplant fiasco and how TPMG works with the health plan. This podcast is what he had to say when we spoke late Friday evening. It was via cell phone so the sound quality isn’t the greatest.

He was unable to comment on the kidney transplant story, claiming to only know what he read in the papers. But about everything else he had strong and I think relatively balanced opinions–especially as he was the physician executive in Colorado who was in charge of the CIS project that was being implemented system-wide when it was scrapped in favor of the Epic/HealthConnect software system–which he strongly defends.

Whatever your views, it’s very interesting stuff. I hope I asked him the tough questions and in general I think he gave very thoughtful answers. And it’s to his credit that he decided to get his and Permanente’s side of the story out, as they’ve been far too reticent to talk openly in the past. Here’s the interview. There’ll be a transcript as soon as it’s available.

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richard smithEricGadfly Recent comment authors
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richard smith

Suggested reading: The Circus of Medicine. Lima, OH: Wyndham Hall Press. by Richard Dean Smith Medical practice received uncharacteristic sanction and public approval during the middle decades of the 20th century. For centuries before and decades since, medicine has been the focus of criticism and distrust. Throngs, droves, herds, flocks, legions of self-appointed critics, pricey ‘healthcare’ consultants, economists (academic and otherwise), on-the-run politicians, and promoters of the healthcare insurance industrial complex brought bizarre exaggerated claims against the medical profession. Nearly everyone has opinions on ‘what’s wrong’ with doctors, hospitals, and medicine—a new / old breed of hangers-on surround medicine; such… Read more »


I just realized I gave the wrong URL for the Thrive “smoking gun” docs. They’re archived at http://www.kaiserthrive.org


Matt, thank you for the podcast with Dr. Wiesenthal. I just wish you had asked him to respond to Justen Deal’s allegations about cost overruns associated with HealthConnect. In 2004, George Halvorsohn said KP’s internal analysis showed that HealthConnect would generate savings of $500 million per year (see Fall 2004 issue of The Permanente Journal). Is this estimate still valid?


Hi, Matt – great score for an interview! Wiesenthal is the one who was pimping HealthConnect to the Ways and Means committee. I also find it’s interesting that he comes out of Colorado – known for spilling it’s Intranet onto Google, including the PR plans for Thrive. (See http://www.kpthrive.org) I’m interested in Wiesenthal’s comment that “everyone preferred” Epic when there are comments on HISTalk that say there was an original team that panned Epic, but they were replaced by a team that would play ball (Tanning?). From what I remember when I was there, the decision was portrayed as a… Read more »