Receiving an award is often a recognition of past accomplishments and achievements, but several leading women in the health IT industry see their recent award recognition as a call to action and an expectation to continue their work to solve big problems in healthcare through the use of technology.
On Tuesday, I attended a webinar sponsored by the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) highlighting the inaugural recipients of the HIMSS’s Most Influential Women in Health IT Award. It was an inspiring, thought-provoking panel discussion about leadership, specifically within the health IT world, and how to champion and equip the next generation of leaders. Several of the award recipients shared their insights about solving problems and sharing ideas as well as how they transformed from mentees to mentors, and then leaders.
HIMSS announced the award recipients in December and they were honored during an event at HIMSS17 in Orlando in February. The inaugural group of recipients represent a diverse group of leaders at various stages in their careers—Shareefa Al Abulmonem, head of eServices, King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, Saudi Arabia; Marion J. Ball, Ed.D, senior advisor, IBM-Center for Computational Health; Rachelle Blake, CEO and managing director, Omni Med Solutions, Germany; Christina Caraballo, senior healthcare strategist, Get Real Health; Karen DeSalvo, M.D., acting assistant secretary of health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Karen Guice, M.D., acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, U.S. Department of Defense and Lisa Stump, chief information officer, Yale New Haven Health and Yale School of Medicine.
Carla Smith, HIMSS executive vice president, pointed out that the award does not focus solely on leaders in senior roles. “HIMSS believes women can be influential at any stage in their career,” she said when opening up on the panel discussion during the webinar.
And, while many of these names were already familiar to me, it was insightful to hear about their unique journeys of transformational change and innovation in the health sector. And, to me, it’s exciting that the awards not only acknowledge the difference women are making in this industry, but also to recognize how each of these leaders is profoundly transforming healthcare through IT.
As an example, Smith pointed out that Marion Ball, considered to be a “senior stateswoman” in the health IT sector, is known as an educator, leader, mentor and champion with a “tremendous body of knowledge and expertise.” Ball, who is on the editorial board at Healthcare Informatics, has been recognized for 30 years of service and major contributions to the field of healthcare informatics, and she has authored/edited 30 books and published more than 250 papers.
“When she got started, the opportunities for women were far less than they are today, and it’s because of women like Marion, that women like me have opportunities today,” Smith said.
Ball started her career as a math major, she said during the webinar, and a first step into health IT was being in charge of installing a system to automate a pathology lab which led to becoming the director of computing as she continued to work with hospital and financial systems.
Asked for her advice on professional development in the health IT industry, Ball said, “I’m a big believer in apprenticeship programs, and life-long learning.” She added, “Without the knowledge of how to use technology and bring it to the bedside and to the research bench, we cannot proceed. Women are playing a huge role in not only in learning but also the training,” she said.
Throughout her years in health IT, Ball said one foundational element still holds true—technology should be built to enable providers to do their jobs better. “Unfortunately, [today] we’re serving the computer rather than the computer serving us,” she said.
Stump, the CIO at Yale New Haven Health and Yale School of Medicine, said that the HIMSS award inspired her to focus on future achievement rather than just recognize past accomplishments. “This award was wisely named ‘most influential women,’ and that’s incredibly smart because it’s not just about accomplishments that have already been achieved, but really a call to action around what is next, an expectation that we will continue to influence the way that technology is used to the benefit of patients. This is one award I think about every day,” she said.
Blake, CEO and managing director, Omni Med Solutions, agreed, saying “This is not just retrospective, but something that is an expectation. How do I continue to be influential and how do I help those that are coming after me as well to be influential? This is a great way to really underscore not only what we’ve done but what we need to do. This is not about how old you are or how senior you are, but what you can achieve.”
I had previously profiled Stump last May after she gave a presentation detailing how the health system is using data and health IT to drive value to patients. In an interview, Stump, then interim CIO, drilled down into the health system’s health IT strategy as it continues its journey to value-based care. A pharmacist by training, Stump has had a unique journey to the CIO role, but key to that journey, she said during the webinar, was thinking as a clinician first, and leveraging technology resources and data to drive health care. “I wasn’t traditionally trained in healthcare IT, or IT, per se, but I was asking the right questions about why can’t the technology do what we need it to do? And that opened those doors, it’s about not being afraid to ask those questions or being afraid that you might look silly, and recognizing the talent of people around you to answer those questions and that creates empowerment to solve big problems. And we still have big problems in healthcare and I encourage everyone to think that way, to think outside the box.”
And while I think it’s definitely worth listening to the entire webinar, the award recipients shared some words of wisdom about leadership that I think bear repeating here:
“’Keep your head down and do the job.’ I took me a few years to take the advice and appreciate it. And what means is, don’t be distracted, by politics, by other people’s competing priorities, by naysayers, but to really focus on the goals, focus on what’s important, on the people who could help you advance those goals. The more you do that and build your credibility and reputation, the path before you becomes open.” – Lisa Stump
“Change management lies in opportunity conversion. My mentors said, ‘When you can change a challenge into an opportunity that is when you will succeed.’” –Rachelle Blake
“The advice that was given to me, ‘Don’t bring me a problem without bringing me a solution.” –Karen Guice, M.D.
“Education is important; learn the tools of the trade, the secret is to get the certification, get trained in the language, whatever you’re trying to be good at.”— Guice
Regarding the assets that women bring to the health IT industry: “The inclusion. Women always include everyone, and everyone has a role and is important. We’ll help you achieve your goals.” – Shareefa Al Abulmonem
On measuring the future success in health IT: “Technology has the power to shift the way we look at healthcare. When I look at how we measure success in technology, we need to look at it in a phased approach. We’re making doctors understand technology. As technologists, we get it; doctors went to medical school, we studied information technology. We need to listen to these challenges, such as around workflow. We have a lot of work to do right now, as technologists, delivering these tools in a more practical way.” – Christina Caraballo
Here is a link to the webinar on the HIMSS Learning Center site: http://www.himsslearn.org/meet-most-influential-women-health-it#