Kaiser Permanente’s Washington Health Research Institute Onboards New Leader

Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) onboarded its executive director chief Dr. Rita Mangione-Smith recently. She will also serve Kaiser Permanente Washington as vice president for research and health care innovation. Dr. Mangione-Smith has most recently been an investigator at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and Hospital Medicine at the University of Washington (UW). She was recently interviewed about the forces that influenced her perspective serving as a leading scientist and researcher in pediatric quality improvement. TrialSite News showcases KPWHRI, a prominent research center in the Pacific Northwest.

KPWHRI Background

With approximately 250 employees, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute conducts practical research that helps people worldwide stay healthy. Kaiser Permanente is recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans.

A Fascinating History Culminating in Kaiser Acquisition

Group Health Cooperative was established way back in 1946 to contribute to medical research. Its first research project commenced in 1956 with the “Seattle Longitudinal Study,” an investigation of age-related cognitive changes among Group Health members that continues till this day. Group Health Cooperative expanded throughout the 1950s and 1960s, leading to the introduction of the Group Health Research Department in 1969.


By the early 1970s, Group Health research was actively contributing to national-level health policy, such as the RAND Health Insurance Experiment and prominent demonstration projects. By 1975, the medical staff founded the Department of Preventive Care Research leading to their well-known Lifetime Health Monitoring Program, Well-Child Visit Schedule and Breast Cancer Screening Program. By 1978, their director, Robert S. “Tom” Thompson, MD, influenced the first evidence-based clinical guidelines.


By 1983, the Center for Health Studies (CHS) was established later becoming their Group Health Research Institute. They became a national leader in areas including breast cancer screening, smoking cessation, and other critical areas—it emerged as a key player shaping and influencing the overall U.S. health care system.


Group Health CHS research influence grew, allocating $5 million in research grant revenue by 1990s. At that same time, CHS expanded the breadth and depth to its findings, using multi-disciplinary approaches for large population studies. The 1990s was the decade that saw the beginning of intense collaboration with systems such as Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, and major universities across the country. By 1996, CHS formed the Health Care Systems Research Network (HCSRN), a 19-member consortium of health plans within integrated health systems.  HCSRN researchers collaborated with more than 1,900 scientists nationwide to combine and study data of millions of patients.  Through its MacColl Center, founded in 1992, it pioneered research involving chronic care.

2000s to 2017

By 2009, CHS became Group Health Research Institute (GHRI) in an action to bolster the organization’s visibility locally to nationally and to solidify Group Health’s position as a leader in transforming health care. GHRI continued to grow in size and influence with annual revenues of approximately $50 million despite ups and downs with federal research funding climate. It focused on the benefits of practice and research and evolution of the “learning health care system” approach where research influences practice and practice influences research.

The Kaiser Acquisition

In 2016, Group Health inked a $1.8 billion deal with Kaiser Permanente; and by February 2017, they became a part of a huge, nation-wide health care system, changing its name to Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI). Now part of a very large system with access to greater amounts of capital, systems and programs, and patients, the Learning Health System Program, which Kaiser’s regional operation funds, was used to advance the use of research capabilities to continuously offer better care for members.

Learning Health Care System

KPWHRI reports on their LinkedIn and website that they specialize in medical research, aging & geriatrics research, health science, health services & economics, opioid research, social determinants of health, cancer research including breast cancer studies, child & adolescent health, preventative medicine, and complementary & integrative health.

Importantly, physicians and investigators have a “360-degree view” of patients’ everyday health experience over time as they are part of a large, comprehensive health system with a myriad of services. They collaborate closely with teams from Kaiser Permanente Washington to not only capitalize on perspective on practical approaches to some of health care’s biggest challenges but also help collectively build a “learning health care system”—where research bolsters and improves practice and the practices strengthens the research.


With a $55 million research budget, KPWHRI is managing 291 active research grants and contracts. To date, KPWHRI researchers have produced 364 publications in peer-reviewed journals. KPWHIR’s two centers including 1) Center for Community Health and 2) MacColl Center for Health Care Innovation, which are both integral parts of their research offering.

Affiliated groups include Kaiser Permanente, Kaiser Permanente Washington, Group Health Foundation, and Washington Permanente Medical Group.

KPWHRI collaborates with many organizations but prominent ongoing collaborative partners include Health Care Systems Research Network, National Institutes of Health’s Vaccine, Treatment and Evaluation Units, and National Cancer Institute’s Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium to mention some nationwide partners. Localized collaborative partners still include University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

Partnering with KPWHRI

KPWHRI actively seeks collaboration with qualified partners as part of its goal to discover practical ways to deliver high-quality, affordable health care. They bring tremendous strengths in large epidemiologic studies, randomized trials and pragmatic clinical trials, such as real-world data-driven studies.

How do they Qualify Partners?

First, they require that a government, commercial or academic clinical research partner identify and collaborate with a KPWHRI faculty member. They then determine whether any clinical research projects align with Kaiser Permanente Washington policies and address any potential impact on the health-care delivery system.

KPWHRI Desired Collaborations

KPWHRI is actively seeking partnerships and collaborations for studies affecting patient care or those interested in leveraging the large (and valuable) amounts of Kaiser Permanente Washington’s sensitive data. Partners must understand that any research involving Kaiser Permanente Washington programming or staff time do require external funding.

KPWHRI invites collaborators to contact faculty members directly but ensure that the prospective collaboration aligns with common areas of interest. In the case where there is no faculty focusing on the topic, the prospective partner can contact the KPWHRI Feasibility Review Committee for a proposal evaluation. Peggy Tobin chairs the Feasibility Review Committee.

Executive Director

Dr. Rita Mangione-Smith, executive director

Call to Action: Interested in taking advantage of large amounts of data within Kaiser for real-world evidence studies? Contact KPWHRI directly. KPWHRI researchers are part of the TrialSite Network®—a 400,000+ data base of investigators. Sign up for the newsletter as TrialSite News tracks KPWHRI for important population health and real-world evidence studies.