Researcher Spotlight: Susan Brown’s Deep Roots In Disease Prevention Research
Susan Brown speaking at the RISE Conference at UCSF in July 2018.

Researcher Spotlight: Susan Brown’s Deep Roots in Disease Prevention Research

Research scientist reflects on her family’s unique connection to Kaiser Permanente.

By Brett Israel, Senior Communications Consultant

Many people in the Kaiser Permanente community have generational ties to the organization. But not many also have generational ties to the health care research that Kaiser Permanente is now recognized for. Susan Brown, PhD, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Division of Research, was not only born at the Oakland Medical Center — where her mother, Jean S. Moore, had a 26-year career in nursing — but she’s also carrying forward her mother’s belief in the importance of disease prevention research.

Brown studies ways to help patients prevent chronic conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease by eating well, being active, managing weight, and staying up-to-date with preventive screening tests. Her research focuses on behavior change interventions for women and racial and ethnic minority groups who bear disproportionate burdens of chronic disease. It’s a field that not only is her passion, but was important to her mother, too. Moore played a supporting role in early research led by Kaiser Permanente’s founding physician Sidney R. Garfield and Division of Research founder Morris Collen. The research project was called the Total Health Care Project, a randomized study on the ideal way to deliver health care and inspire lifestyle change for chronic disease prevention.

“My mom’s lifelong commitment to patient-centered preventive care continues to inspire me today,” Brown said. “It’s part of why I feel so strongly connected to Kaiser Permanente’s history and its mission to advance preventive medicine.”

Jean S. Moore (middle row, fifth from left) in an undated photo of the Total Health Care Project team picture. Sidney Garfield is on the front row, third from right.

The Total Health Care Project was the last research study from Kaiser Permanente’s Sidney Garfield (Garfield, along with Morris Collen, established the Division of Research in 1961). Launched in the 1980s, the Total Health Care Project tested Garfield’s belief that preventive care should go hand-in-hand with sick care. Garfield’s vision was that a team-based approach of physicians, nurse practitioners, and other providers can effectively and economically provide comprehensive primary care. As one of six nurse practitioners on the Total Health Care team, Jean Moore was on the vanguard of demonstrating nurses’  expanding roles in preventive medicine.

Among the Total Health Care Project’s tactics was an aggressive outreach plan to new members to schedule a health evaluation appointment and to develop a personalized Health Improvement Plan. Members received a mailing with the instructions: “If you are feeling fine, we also want to see you to make sure you are in good health and assist you in preventing future problems. We really think the BEST time for you to get acquainted with us is when you’re feeling good, without the pressure of illness.”

Susan D. Brown, PhD, research scientist and licensed clinical psychologist at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research.

Coincidentally, Brown’s own research is aligned with the preventive work her mom supported in the Total Health Care Project. She hopes that her work will also help trigger lifestyle changes that can prevent chronic diseases among diverse patients at high risk. To that end, she studies the design, implementation, effectiveness, and reach of interventions — from single health messages to complex programs — that support women in making healthy lifestyle choices. She recently found that a tailored letter with personalized recommendations, sent as part of a nurse-based care management program for women with gestational diabetes, helps women meet national guidelines for healthy weight gain during pregnancy. She is also testing new outreach strategies to motivate patients to participate in preventive programs.

Brown is affiliated with three research sections at the Division of Research: Women’s and Children’s Health, Health Care Delivery and Policy and Behavioral Health and Aging. Her interests extend to research methods, such as practical strategies to increase diversity among participants in clinical trials. Brown has received research and career development support from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

“I’m proud of my mom’s work and excited to continue that legacy — one focused on the importance of behavior change, and on how health care systems and providers can best support diverse patients,” Brown said.

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