Leading the Way for Change and Improvement
On March 16, 2015, I participated in a SXSW panel discussion titled “Women Leading Changes in Digital Healthcare.” It was really exciting to be able to share my thoughts on the topic and to listen to the great insights of my fellow panelists, including Amy Li of Dance4healing, Sonya Satveit of Open Source Health, and Wen Dombrowski of Resonate Health. I especially enjoyed the “dance break” that Amy Li led to kick off the panel, demonstrating how dancing can facilitate human connections and build trust. I wish all SharpHeels readers could have been there to hear the ideas that were discussed, but in case you couldn’t make it, I’ll share some of the takeaways.
The panelists talked about how women are already leading the changes in digital healthcare and how others can step up and contribute going forward. We looked at the role of women in society today, as well as what “digital health” really means.
Why Women are Uniquely Well-Qualified to Succeed in The Healthcare Field
Women, by nature, tend to be both nurturing and collaborative people. That’s not to say that men don’t have these qualities. But, very often a woman is the person in a family who’s most responsible for caring for all family members. A woman doesn’t just handle the logistics of family life, she tackles emotional well-being and physical health. A woman is also therefore very likely to be the one making family healthcare decisions. Handling these tasks and making these decisions creates a certain skill set that can be helpful in professional life, too.
More on that professional life: in entrepreneurship, in leadership positions and in technology industries, women are underrepresented. For women who have succeeded in these fields, it can be a challenge to make progress against entrenched beliefs and stereotypes. It is clear that those who do achieve leadership positions, lead profitable entrepreneurial ventures or attain high-level positions in technology companies have faced challenges and resistance, but have overcome that. Those experiences build strength and fearlessness. These successful women resist the status quo and are willing to take risks to make change happen. Further (eclectic) psychological aspects of this situation: women who are successful leaders and entrepreneurs know their blind spots; they know what’s happening in the market; and they are comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Because accomplished women have often become that way by being open, collaborative people in a professional setting, that open, transparent quality is usually an integral part of their success. It enables them to reach outside the boundaries of an organization, and in healthcare, can help break down silos that currently exist.. There are many organizations that all serve the same population in different ways, including hospitals, insurers, government, non-profits, pharmaceutical companies, and health technology companies – all of which are very disconnected right now. These organizations all have unique objectives, and patients are left to navigate between all of them. The patient—who is supposed to be served by these organizations—is therefore instead left at the center ofa fragmented ecosystem. If we can connect the dots and collaborate between the silos to create a better patient experience, this will result in better health.
The Dilemmas of Digital Health
When we talk “digital health,” sometimes that term is a bit of a misnomer. It isn’t really “digital health,” it’s just…health. Technology should be the wind at our back, not in our faces. It’s not about the next wearable bauble – it’s about how we connect in new ways. Technology itself can’t deliver value or meaning, but how it connects us and how it improves the delivery of healthcare will bring value and meaning.
During the panel discussion, Amy Li sagely pointed out that technology makes it possible for us to connect, but it is the human connections that make a big difference in healthcare. For technology to make successful change in healthcare, we must really understand what people need and how technology can facilitate that, making the process easier and more effective for the patient. That’s easier said than done, of course. There is so much buzz, so many trends and nonstop hype to sort through to get to the ideas that hold promise for real change. The industry needs to look carefully at what really works.
How do you measure that? For me, when my team and I are designing solutions for health, we have to look at what meaning and value people are seeking, what motivates people intrinsically, and how to align with that to help them reach their goals. We need to engage, with empathy, and involve the people we design for in the process. Women make most of the health care decisions for their families. When deciding what drives value, it’s important to understand that women are a big part of the support, decision-making and caregiving system. Women are more comfortable with empathy, and are nurturers by nature. We want to understand where the target audience is coming from, what their needs, desires, challenges and obstacles are, and that inspires the solutions we create. That empathetic, nurturing quality is key to how we approach problem-solving in the health space and will help solve problems more effectively.
In many cases, it is women who are driving these kinds of revolutionary ideas. Because whenever you bring an underrepresented entity to the table, they change the discussion. They bring new ideas and a different perspective from other participants. Women who emerge successfully in fields where women are historically underrepresented are risk takers. They are also purpose-driven people. They are pursuing a more challenging path because they want to align their life’s work with something that has meaning and purpose.
That sort of purpose emanates from something on a visceral, emotional level. Making change to the healthcare industry is hard because of existing barriers — long-standing business relationships, regulations, and general inertia. Women who are highly motivated and purpose-driven are going to be the ones who ultimately overcome the hurdles and help bring about real change.
I believe women will continue to lead change in the world of health. They will bring emotion and passion to the buttoned-down worlds of business and technology — and that will be transformative. New leaders will also emerge, following the path of the trailblazers who came before. In the end, it will be these female leaders, technologists, and entrepreneurs who lead us to a new era with an improved healthcare ecosystem that effectively serves the needs of all.14