Culture & Leadership | Diversity Equity and Inclusion

Improving the Diversity of Patient Partners

In the Kaiser Permanente Northwest market, we have been working hard to diversify our pool of Patient Partners and simultaneously make it easy for Kaiser Permanente staff to bring in the patient voice. Using new recruiting methods, we have increased the racial/ethnic diversity of our group of Patient Partners from 5 percent to 25 percent over the last three years, even in the face of the challenges from the COVID pandemic. We are still not satisfied. 

A barrier we want to overcome is access to participation by our Patient Partners. Traditional ways of onboarding create obstacles to participation, especially for those who are working parents or for whom transportation to physical meeting spaces is an impediment. Onboarding and training patients and families for this role is important. For ongoing opportunities where challenges to collaboration and the potential for unconscious bias are coming into play, our training increases the ability of our Patient Partners to be successful in their role. This process currently requires about 12-15 hours, and many of our opportunities require monthly meetings.  

As one way of lifting this barrier, we are creating a new activity status. We are calling this status “eAdvisor,” and this role is limited to activities like answering surveys, giving feedback over email, and participating in online listening sessions. With these considerations, we can onboard new Patient Partners in 2-3 hours.  

This new activity status helps invite more diverse patient and family voices because: 

  • The shortened onboarding process is more accessible to busy people, 
  • Surveys and response to email feedback requests can be done at their convenience,  
  • Listening sessions are one-time 1 1/2-to-2-hour online meetings.  

It makes involving patients and families easier for busy staff because: 

  • Survey and email feedback requests can flow naturally from improvement initiatives already happening, 
  • Listening sessions are one-time events and our Person and Family Centered Care staff facilitate the meeting and collate results for the staff to incorporate,  
  • These Patient Partners will give staff access to faster, more granular feedback, especially for primary care locations. 

There are still challenges we face in implementing this change. These include:  

  • Finding new ways to contact our Kaiser Permanente members about the opportunity and making it as easy as possible for them to enroll,  
  • Working with staff to understand and address any barriers they face in making effective use of this opportunity,  
  • Ensuring that these Patient Partners have adequate support even for this limited role.  

We are excited about the challenge offered by this new work and are open to hearing about the success others have experienced with similar initiatives. In particular:  

  • New ways of finding patients and their families to invite into participation,  
  • Ways you have discovered and lifted barriers to participation by doctors and administrative and clinical staff.  

About the Author:
Emily Newberry was invited to volunteer as a Patient Partner after years of advocacy for transgender health care rights and now is employed by Kaiser Permanente to onboard and mentor other Patient Partners. She is also a published author and podcast host at, inviting us into a conversation about how to stay connected to our deepest values as we work for change.

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