Robert S. "Tom" Thompson, MD, Andy Stergarchis, PhD, and Michael Von Korff, ScD, were among our first scientific investigators when Group Health Cooperative established the Center for Health Studies in 1983.

Always part of our mission

A commitment to research has been a part of our organization’s vision from the time it was founded as Group Health Cooperative in 1946, through its acquisition by Kaiser Permanente in February 2017, and beyond.

In fact, Group Health's first mission statement said that the organization would "contribute to medical research."

The organization began its first research project in 1956 with Dr. K. Warner Schaie’s "Seattle Longitudinal Study," an investigation of age-related cognitive changes among Group Health members that continues today. Requests for research access to Group Health enrollees and data increased through the 1960s, prompting the organization to establish the Group Health Research Department in 1969.

In the early 1970s, Group Health contributed to projects with major implications for national health policy. Among these were the RAND Health Insurance Experiment and two demonstration projects—the Model Cities Project and Plan 9 Rural Health Project—both designed to improve health care for low-income people.

In 1975, the medical staff founded the Department of Preventive Care Research, led by Robert S. "Tom" Thompson, MD. This department's early work led to the organization’s Lifetime Health Monitoring Program, Well-Child Visit schedule, and Breast Cancer Screening Program. In 1978, Thompson established the Committee on Prevention, which developed Group Health's first evidence-based clinical guidelines. Also in 1978, the Group Health Board of Trustees adopted the organization's first formal research policy and guidelines, resulting in the current Research Committee and Human Subjects Review Committee.

Center for Health Studies established

In 1983, the Group Health Board of Trustees established the Center for Health Studies (CHS), which was later named Group Health Research Institute. With Ed Wagner, MD, MPH, at the helm, the Center's research helped Group Health become a national leader in such areas as breast cancer screening, immunization, smoking cessation, health promotion in seniors, and epidemiology and management of common chronic diseases. Focusing on evidence-based medicine and improved clinical outcomes, Group Health and the Center emerged as key players in transforming the U.S. health care system and helping shape global research priorities, clinical guidelines, and coverage standards.

Leading with a spirit of collaboration

Group Health continued to expand its research capabilities over the next decade, with CHS grant revenue topping more than $5 million by 1993. Through collaboration with researchers locally, nationally, and internationally, CHS added breadth and depth to its findings, using multi-disciplinary approaches to study larger populations. Among our key partners—then and now—are the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, and several major universities, including the University of Washington (UW), Harvard University, and the University of Michigan.

In 1996, CHS leaders catalyzed the formation of the Health Care Systems Research Network (HCSRN) (formerly HMORN), a 19-member consortium of health plans within integrated health care systems. Through the HCSRN, our researchers work with more than 1,900 scientists nationwide to combine and study data from a diverse population of millions people.

CHS also provided collaborative leadership through its MacColl Institute for Healthcare Innovation (now called the MacColl Center), founded in 1992. MacColl Center staff worked with Group Health to create and pioneer the Chronic Care Model, with funds for development and dissemination coming from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

By the decade's end, Wagner had stepped down from leading CHS to focus on directing the MacColl. Sue Curry, PhD, became the Center's next director as grant revenue exceeded $10 million. CHS welcomed a new director in 2002: Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH, previously the medical director of the UW Medical Center.

CHS becomes Group Health Research Institute

CHS changed its name to Group Health Research Institute (GHRI) in September 2009, a move intended to boost the organization’s visibility locally and nationally—and to further solidify Group Health's role as a leader in transforming health care. 

Over the past decade, the Institute has continued to grow in size and influence, stabilizing with annual external revenues of about $50 million—despite an uncertain climate for federally funded research. In addition to traditional and new lines of research, it has focused on further developing the larger organization’s capacity as "a learning health care system"—a place where research influences practice and practice influences practice.

Research on Group Health innovations such as shared decision-making for preference-sensitive conditions, and its opioid risk-mitigation initiative are recent examples of successful collaborations between the organization’s clinical leaders and scientists in developing our learning health care system. Others include ongoing efforts to develop more patient-centered models of primary and specialty care and to continually improve strategies for cancer screening. This work, along with our traditional lines of federally funded research, continues to serve our mission to improve health and health care for all.

In 2017, we became Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

In 2016, Group Health signed an acquisition agreement with Kaiser Permanente and began work to become the eighth region of this large, not-for-profit health plan.  With this change, GHRI prepared to become part of Kaiser Permanente’s research network.  In February 2017, it changed its name to Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute.