Health Informatics

“Our goal is to understand how to make health information technology practical in ways that directly engage patients and providers.”

James D. Ralston, MD, MPH
Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute Associate Investigator
Washington Permanente Medical Group, Internal Medicine 

Research overview

Research on health informatics at Kaiser Permanente Washington focuses on developing and using health information technology (IT) to transform health care delivery. By testing new paradigms of care that provide more opportunities to engage patients outside of in-person visits, this research is supplying valuable evidence that is helping shape federal policy and guiding innovative redesign of health care.

“Our goal is to understand how to make health IT practical in ways that directly engage patients and providers,” explained Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) Associate Investigator and lead health IT researcher James Ralston, MD, MPH. “We want to find ways to use information technologies to support patients and providers together, both inside and outside the office.”

Integral to this support is designing technologies that are user-friendly and meet the needs of both patients and providers. By applying human-centered methods, new Assistant Investigator Andrea Hartzler, PhD, informs the design of health IT by focusing on needs, use, and usability through direct input from users.

With health IT playing a pivotal role in health care reform, understanding how to maximize its effectiveness has never been more important. Dr. Ralston’s research on secure messaging between patients and providers showed that it increased patient satisfaction with care. His team’s findings influenced Kaiser Permanente Washington’s organization-wide rollout of the patient-centered medical home—and were later cited in federal rules requiring hospitals and health care professionals to use secure messaging to receive incentive payments for meaningful use of electronic health records.

Other areas of focus for the research include:

  • using Web-based care and a patient-shared electronic medical record to improve care for chronic illnesses, such as depression, diabetes, and heart disease;
  • understanding the effects of new technologies such as OpenNotes, which gives patients access to notes that their doctors write during office visits (see 2012 news release);
  • testing “natural language processing” (NLP) to target mentions of specific words and phrases in electronic medical records and supplement skilled chart abstraction—providing faster access to “big data,” according to Clinical Data Scientist David Carrell, PhD, who leads KPWHRI’s work on NLP (see feature story: ‘Teaching’ computers to read doctors’ notes promises gains in research efficiency); and
  • evaluating how well mobile health applications—including Kaiser Permanente Washington’s award-winning Mobile MyKaiser Permanente Washington—meet the needs of traditionally underserved populations.

“Our studies on using health IT to improve care are showing that we can achieve better outcomes when we shift care from the doctor’s office to where people live: in their homes—and online,” said Associate Investigator and Kaiser Permanente Washington Family Physician Beverly B. Green, MD, MPH.

Recent publications on Health Informatics

Trinidad SB, Shaw JL, Dirks LG, Ludman EJ, Burke W, Dillard DA. Perceptions of alcohol misuse among Alaska Native health care system stakeholders: a qualitative exploration. J Ethn Subst Abuse. 2019 Feb 4:1-24. doi: 10.1080/15332640.2018.1556766. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Masters ET, Ramaprasan A, Mardekian J, Palmer RE, Gross DE, Cronkite D, Von Korff M, Carrell DS. Natural language processing-identified problem opioid use and its associated health care costs. J Pain Palliat Care Pharmacother. 2019 Jan 31:1-10. doi: 10.1080/15360288.2018.1488794. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Muntner P, Einhorn PT, Cushman WC, Whelton PK, Bello NA, Drawz PE, Green BB, Jones DW, Juraschek SP, Margolis KL, Miller ER 3rd, Navar AM, Ostchega Y, Rakotz MK, Rosner B, Schwartz JE, Shimbo D, Stergiou GS, Townsend RR, Williamson JD, Wright JT Jr, Appel LJ; 2017 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Working Group. Blood pressure assessment in adults in clinical practice and clinic-based research: JACC scientific expert panel. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2019;73(3):317-335. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2018.10.069. PubMed

Campbell CI, Weisner C, Binswanger IA, Lapham GT, Ahmedani BK, Yarborough BJH, Haller IV, Altschuler A, Hechter RC, Loree AM, Kline-Simon AH. Predictors of Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) treatment initiation and engagement among patients with opioid use disorder across 7 health systems. Subst Abus. 2019 Jan 24:1-7. doi: 10.1080/08897077.2018.1545729. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Powell BJ, Fernandez ME, Williams NJ, Aarons GA, Beidas RS, Lewis CC, McHugh SM, Weiner BJ. Enhancing the impact of implementation strategies in healthcare: a research agenda. Front Public Health. 2019 Jan 22;7:3. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2019.00003. eCollection 2019. PubMed

Researchers in Health Informatics

James D. Ralston, MD, MPH

Senior Investigator
206-287-2076
James.D.Ralston@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Jennifer B. McClure, PhD

Director of Research, Faculty, & Development; Senior Investigator
206-287-2737
Jennifer.B.Mcclure@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Beverly B. Green, MD, MPH

Senior Investigator
206-287-2997
Bev.B.Green@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Katharine A. Bradley, MD, MPH

Senior Investigator
206-287-2151
Katharine.A.Bradley@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH, MACP

Vice President for Research and Health Care Innovation, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington; Executive Director & Senior Investigator, KPWHRI
206-287-2988
Eric.B.Larson@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Paula Lozano, MD, MPH

Senior Investigator, KPWHRI; Associate Medical Director for Research and Translation & Physician, Pediatrics, Washington Permanente Medical Group
206-287-2113
Paula.Lozano@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Paula R. Blasi, MPH

Research Associate
206-287-2094
Paula.R.Blasi@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Predrag Klasnja, PhD

Assistant Investigator
206-442-5207
Predrag.V.Klasnja@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

David S. Carrell, PhD

Assistant Investigator
206-287-2705
David.S.Carrell@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Cara C. Lewis, PhD, HSPP

Associate Investigator
206-442-4076
Cara.C.Lewis@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Rebecca Y. Coley, PhD

Assistant Investigator
206-287-2071
Rebecca.Y.Coley@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Lynn DeBar, PhD

Senior Investigator
(206) 287-2942
Lynn.Debar@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)