A tour through the "Body Metrics" exhibit at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Calif., requires visitors to don bulky biosensors that measure brain waves, heart rate, breathing rate and muscle tension.
After suiting up, visitors stop by the interactive “Data Pool,” the museum's centerpiece, which displays the visitor's photo and describes his or her personal attributes, such as “active,” “ecstatic” and “engaged.” Then it offers a summary description, like “confident doer.” The goal is to create self-awareness about health, said Romie Littrell, lead curator for the exhibit.
The $3.5 million exhibit, which opened in 2014, has Kaiser Permanente as a supporter. It's free to schoolchildren, and 60% of visitors are from low-income schools. The program is one of the many community benefit initiatives that not-for-profit Kaiser supports.
In 2014, Kaiser spent $2.2 billion, or 3.9% of operating revenue, on community benefit programs. Some of its efforts stay close to traditional healthcare, such as supporting community health centers in their stroke and heart attack prevention programs. Others, such as the “Body Metrics” exhibit, are about encouraging healthy lifestyles. Many of its programs are focused on children. It also has a fitness partnership with pro hockey's San Jose Sharks to get underprivileged sixth-graders to become more active.
Kaiser has powerful reasons for wanting to keep its population healthy, since it runs both a 10.2 million-member health plan and an integrated healthcare delivery system including hospitals. The healthier its enrolled population, the lower the medical costs for its insurance arm. In Santa Clara County, where the Tech Museum is located, one-third of residents are Kaiser members, and many more could be future Kaiser members. So initiatives to improve community health could have a return on investment.
Kaiser's population-health improvement efforts are working, said Loel Solomon, vice president of community health. In 88% of its communities, there's evidence that people are making at least one positive health-related change, whether that's reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages or increasing physical activity, he said. But Kaiser can't do it alone. Its programs must complement what other groups are doing, and they have to be sustainable. “This kind of community change work is a team sport,” he said.