For 25 years, the Member Health Survey has been helping Kaiser Permanente to learn about its members
By Janet Byron
Every three years since 1993, the Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) Member Health Survey has been reaching out to members to find out what they are doing — and not doing — to stay healthy. Nancy Gordon, ScD, of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research (DOR), lead researcher on the Member Health Survey since it began, explains how the survey helps Kaiser Permanente to better understand its membership and how to serve their health needs.
How did you get involved in the Member Health Survey?
In the early 1990s, KPNC did not have any electronic data on members aside from age, gender, and appointments. This survey, which is funded by KPNC’s Community Benefit Program, was developed to serve the joint needs of DOR researchers and Regional Health Education looking for information about sociodemographic and health-related characteristics of adult members. Regional Health Education continues to provide input to survey content on health behaviors and health information strategies.
What kinds of questions do you ask in the survey?
The survey includes a core set of questions covering sociodemographic characteristics, health conditions, and health-related behaviors and psychosocial risks, and the use of complementary and integrative health. We also ask about use of digital technologies and preferred methods for obtaining health information and advice. Over time, we’ve added questions of topical interest, dropping others to keep the questionnaire about the same length. For example, in the 2015 questionnaire, we included new questions about social determinants of health, consumption of sugary drinks, and whether members would be interested in obtaining health information and advice using health apps, text messages, and video visits.
What survey results have surprised you most over the years?
It’s been amazing to observe the increase in the percentage of adult members who believe that their health behaviors, lifestyle, stress, and emotional troubles can have a large impact on their health. In the 2014-15 survey cycle, over 85 percent of adults indicated the belief that habits and lifestyles can affect their health quite a bit, and about the same percentage thought that stress and emotional troubles can affect their health quite a bit — up from 64 percent and 55 percent, respectively, in 2002. The largest increases have been among seniors and members of color. I attribute this change to the great work being done by our health education and clinical staff.
Sleep is a health behavior that is increasingly getting the attention of health professionals. The 2014-15 survey found that only 69 percent of adult members usually tried to get enough sleep to feel well-rested, about 32 percent were getting less than 7 hours of sleep per day, and 10 percent had frequent problems falling and staying asleep.
How are the survey results used by Kaiser Permanente?
DOR researchers use the survey data to prepare grant applications, publications, and conduct research studies. Numerous departments of Kaiser Permanente, such as health education and quality, find it useful to have information about the sociodemographic characteristics of our adult membership, behaviors and psychosocial risks known to affect adult health and well-being, and how members prefer to obtain health information and advice.
For example, The Permanente Medical Group’s regional Complementary and Integrated Health team is using the data to better understand how our members at different medical centers are using methods like mind-body medicine, acupuncture, yoga, and chiropractic to treat and prevent health problems. Data are also being used to track health behavior risks such as sleep, fruit and vegetable consumption, and stress; to identify the needs and interests of members with chronic health conditions like migraines and insomnia; and to study racial, ethnic, and educational disparities in health status and behavioral and psychosocial factors that can affect health.
How can health care providers, health care planners, and health researchers inside and outside of Kaiser Permanente use the survey information to improve the health of communities we serve?
Because more than a third of the insured population in Northern California belongs to Kaiser Permanente, our membership pretty closely resembles the community at large. Since we are a learning health care organization, we make our survey results available on our survey website to raise awareness among clinicians and health care planners inside and outside our walls about health and healthcare-related needs of adults. We also welcome opportunities to use the survey data, which we can link with electronic health record data, for collaborative research.
Read about the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Member Health Survey in Permanente Journal.
For more information including reports profiling the adult membership in the Northern California Region and 19 KPNC medical center service populations, go to the Member Health Survey webpage www.memberhealthsurvey.kaiser.org or contact Nancy Gordon at email@example.com.
By Janet Byron, Senior Communications Consultant