A collection of letters by the CEO of the nation’s largest health plan to his 180,000 employees.
Reading other people’s mail can be irresistible—or deadly dull. What will readers find compelling in nearly five years’ worth of weekly emails from someone else’s boss? Plenty, it turns out. Halvorson (Health Care Will Not Reform Itself, 2009, etc.) offers a unique view of health care from his perch atop Oakland, Calif.–based Kaiser Permanente, a $50 billion–a-year managed care organization that insures and provides care for 9 million people in the United States. Founded in the 1940s by industrialist Henry Kaiser to cover his construction and shipbuilding workers, KP today has 40 percent of California’s health insurance market and 10 percent of the entire nation’s. In recent years, KP pioneered electronic medical records, and many of the successes Halvorson celebrates in this book derive from that $4 billion investment. Other topics include reducing hospital-acquired infections; lowering mortality rates; cultivating care teams; preventive-health research studies using “big data”; and implementing logistical fixes, such as re-engineering nurses’ shift changes and outfitting mobile clinics for rural patients. These letters, said to be unedited from their original form, contain occasional whiffs of public relations polishing, but background notes often clarify context and jargon, and many include charts and graphs as well. Halvorson maintains a consistent style and distinctive voice and presents complicated health topics in clear and simple language. A few of the author’s verbal quirks become repetitive in book form—for example, he loves the word “lovely” and the phrase “a good thing.” But by writing about his grandson’s premature birth, his dying uncle’s palliative care and his own coronary-bypass surgery, Halvorson humanizes insurance executives and hospital administrators in an era when health care reformers often cast them as boogeymen. Some readers may tire of the relentless cheerleading, but the valuable information Halvorson shares make the pep rallies worthwhile.
A highly readable, surprisingly engaging volume for anyone interested in health care issues.