Kaiser Permanente Examines Complexity and Potential of Diversity
Kaiser Permanente recently hosted its 2009 National Diversity Conference with senior executives, physicians and employees from across the country. This annual diversity learning forum featured some of the nation’s foremost authorities on culturally competent care, linguistic services, workforce diversity and diversity business strategies.
“The diversity conference is a well-established institution in our organization, and a learning forum that provides critical information and skills development to better address the unique health care needs of our members and customize service delivery to diverse populations,” said Ronald Knox, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. “As health and health care disparities continue to expand, particularly among populations of color, convening the nation’s best thinkers on this topic is critically important and valuable. The racial and ethnic diversity of our members and workforce far exceed national averages, so refining our ability to deliver culturally informed care and leveraging the vast cultural expertise of our workforce are consistent with our organization’s mission to improve our members’ health status and, frankly, good for business.”
Some of the conference highlights included the first-ever gathering of all four presidents of the country’s largest medical associations discussing health care reform from a diversity perspective. A Socratic Dialogue on Race, moderated by distinguished, former Harvard law professor, Arthur Miller, and featuring a panel consisting of legislators, health care executives, judges and diversity experts, will explore the complex, and still highly sensitive race issue and its manifestations in society, business and politics.
Twenty concurrent workshops, on topics ranging from women’s health to genomics, were also offered. The conference explored the phenomenon of unconscious bias and its impact on health disparities and quality of care relative to people of color.
“In my opinion, unconscious bias represents the next sea change in diversity management,” said Knox. “It explores our propensity to view interactions and make decisions based on our experience and worldview, which invariably is biased. As a consequence, the impact on medical treatment, employment and other business decisions and interpersonal interactions can be unintentionally affected, frequently yielding undesirable results. For these reasons, we are developing a comprehensive agenda focused on the identification and remediation of unconscious bias’ negative effects. This is consistent with our commitment to continuous improvement in diversity management and potentially provides enormous benefits to our members and workforce. Our CEO, George Halvorson, an acknowledged diversity expert and author, developed a large body of work in this area many years before diversity practitioners, psychologists and academicians began exploring application of this phenomenon to business, medicine and social interactions. He fully supports our foray into this exciting and challenging area of diversity management.”
Rounding out the conference program were presentations on the use of virtual technology in health care by Futurework CEO Margaret Reagan; issues of sexual orientation by psychologist and New York Times best-selling author John Amaechi; keynote addresses by Kaiser Permanente leaders, including CEO George Halvorson, Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions Executive Director John August, and John H. Cochran, MD, FACS, executive director of The Permanente Federation, and a panel on demographic data collection and its application to care improvement.