Women in health IT blaze their own path even as gender inequality persists

Judy Faulkner, Pamela Arora, Ellen Pao and many other women in tech, rose above the challenges in 2017 to find success.

This year saw a mix of forward progress and continuing struggle for women working in health and IT. On the one hand, Pamela Arora won the CIO of the year Award while on the other Ellen Pao exposed some of the harsh realities women face in Silicon Valley.

Many are still paid less than their male counterparts in various geographical regions. Women commonly get passed over for promotions more easily gained by men, equality in the workplace remains elusive – the glass ceiling out of reach.

Yet, women in healthcare and technology remain resolute about doing their best work and the ones at the top this year have one thing in common: a strong drive to make the world a better place.

“If you want to change the world, your science, engineering is the only way that you can,” noted Ayanna Howard, a Georgia Tech professor who builds robots and said science and engineering are the path to a better future. “If you don’t get involved in this then the world is not going to change.”

Speaking of change, after Denise Hines discovered a male colleague was being paid $20,000 more than she was earning and encountered an unconvincing reason, she left to start her own company.

“I don’t know if I had been a male or of a different race that it would have made a difference,” Hines said, “but his rationale to pay a white male $20,000 more than me was because the white male needed the money to support his family because he was the breadwinner.”

Hines has a family of seven children to support so she started eHealth Services Group; Hines is also HIMSS North America Chair.

Another entrepreneur, Epic Systems founder and CEO Judy Faulkner told us a couple years ago she was most proud of “building the first electronic health record – and by that changing the world.”

This year, she’s talking about a Comprehensive Health Record – a CHR.

“If you want to keep patients well and you want to get paid, you’re going to have to have a comprehensive health record, you’ll need to use software as your central nervous system, and that’s how you standardize and manage your organization.”

The CHR will include information not in EHRs today, she said, such as social determinants, data about care delivered outside the hospital and more. “We think it should be the new terminology, replacing EHR.”    

While Faulkner began her career as a programmer, when Reshma Saujani was the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress, though she did not win the race, it was during her campaign tours of schools that she noticed the gender gap in computer classes. That realization inspired her to launch Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that offers coding camps, clubs and resources to girls across the country.

“When I first started Girls Who Code, I realized that there was a need for books that described what it’s like to actually be a girl who codes,” Saujani said. “I always say, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ And that’s true for books, too. We need to read stories about girls who look like us in order to be inspired to try something new.”

Indeed, books can be powerful things. In Silicon Valley, for instance, Ellen Pao published a tell-all book “Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change,” on September 19, wherein she describes the discrimination she endured while employed at the prominent venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Pao, who has a degree in electrical engineering from Princeton and two Harvard degrees – one in law, the other an MBA – today is an investment partner at Kapor Capital, the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, and co-founder of the diversity consulting non-profit organization Project Include.

New York Times best-selling author Halee Fischer-Wright, MD, who is also CEO of the Medical Group Management Association said that as a practicing physician she can make an impact one person at a time treating patients.

“But I can make a much greater impact in the business of medicine, and positively affect many more than one at a time,” Fischer-Wright said. “I think that’s what drove me to do both simultaneously.&rdquo

Talk about making an impact. Children’s Health in Dallas chief information officer Pamela Arora won the CHIME and HIMSS CIO of the Year for 2017 for harnessing health IT across the care continuum.

“While technology may not always be visible,” Arora said, “our work makes a difference in the lives of patients – in our case, we are making life better for children. What could be better than that?”

Also working to improve care delivery, National Patient Safety Foundation CEO Tejal Gandhi is president and CEO said the industry at large and women, in particular, have made great strides.

“Twenty years ago, when I started, people didn’t even know there was an issue with errors and harm,” Gandhi said. “We’ve made a lot of advancement in patient safety over the years. We’ve made progress in medical errors, infections, readmissions have seen a significant reduction. It’s not that we’ve not made a lot of improvement, but we still have a long way to go.”

Indeed, that holds true for medical care, patient safety and the careers of women working in healthcare and technology alike.

Twitter: @Bernie_HITN
Email the writer: bernie.monegain@himssmedia.com

Stay Informed

Subscribe today to receive our FREE monthly e-newsletter