Women Who Get IT: Caroline Young, executive director of NashvilleHealth

Caroline Young is the executive director of NashvilleHealth, an initiative focused on improving the health of the citizens of Nashville. The organization was founded by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in an effort to address area health equity issues, Before joining NashvilleHealth, Young served as president of the Nashville Health Care Council, a healthcare industry association. Miriam Paramour interviewed Young as part of a series on Women in Health IT that she has titled “Women who Get IT." In this inaugural interview, Paramore talks with Young not only about the work itself, but also about work-life balance.

Q: How did you get stared in healthcare?

A: I started in healthcare in life sciences at the Tennessee Biotechnology Association, now known as Life Science Tennessee, promoting life science development across the state.  I had the chance to join NHCC (Nashville Health Care Council), which was a wonderful opportunity to zero in on Nashville’s healthcare industry. Nashville is the center for the nation and oftentimes the world regarding healthcare delivery, so I jumped in. I went on to serve as president and stayed for 11 years.

Q: We’ve seen lots of changes in Nashville and in healthcare industry over the past decade.

A:  Yes, Nashville is a healthcare industry powerhouse, home to 18 publically traded companies and generating $70 billion in annual revenue. You don’t have a beachhead like that without creating a lot of economic opportunity and innovation. As a result, Nashville has catapulted in a number of ways and is now much more energetic and cosmopolitan.

Q: From your vantage point at NHCC and now NashvilleHealth, you’ve had so much exposure to the entire industry, including HIT. When did HIT start to show up on your radar or on the radar of the dialogue that you brokered?

A: It was around the first big federal stimulus program, HITECH, about 2007.  George W. Bush came to Nashville and did a tour of Vanderbilt and spoke there. He said he was enthusiastic that everyone in this country would have an electronic medical record. At NHCC, we realized we needed to create programming and talk about those issues and that side of the industry here in Nashville.  It was good for our economy too. 

Q: You launched a leadership initiative with Vanderbilt and Sen. Bill Frist. Tell me about what you and Senator Frist are doing now at NashvilleHealth.

A:  Senator Frist launched NashvilleHealth about a year ago because of his passion around the “great paradox” here in the city.  On the one hand, we have this huge, important healthcare industry, lots of economic momentum, and we are an “it city.” But when you peel the onion back a little bit and you look at the health of our public, our citizens, broadly it’s lousy. We’re traditionally at the bottom of most rankings related to health. And he felt like in a city so rich in resources, know-how and philanthropy, there has to be a better way to get at some of those outcomes. And as we go around talking about ourselves as a healthcare mecca, we really need to be able to mean that. Our goal is to substantially improve the health and wellbeing of Nashvillians.

Q: How does HIT support these initiatives?

A: HIT has huge potential to help us because we are currently using public health data that is old, and maybe even the way it was gathered wasn’t so great. So is it reliable?  With all of the advances in HIT out there, there has got to be a way to track real-time the health of a community, and also overlay that with community data like safety-related, traffic-related, schools-related. Because all of these determinants of health are interrelated and I think you could really zero in on hot spots pretty easily if the technology was out there – and I think it is.

Q: Is there a particular area of HIT where you see a lot of energy and focus right now?  Is it mobile health?  Devices? What are you coming across in your work?

A: We’re looking a lot at the value of mobile. Everyone has a cell phone. There are very low cost barriers. We’re hoping to find a way where applications that people use in their daily lives can be used to maybe message them about health. I don’t think it has to be a new application or something unique. I think it’s meeting people where they are.  I’ve seen some cool technology in the public health world around getting at hypertension and tobacco, or reminding pregnant moms about safe sleep. 

Q: All the women I know who are healthcare executives, or any kind of executive, deal with the same basic issues of work-life balance. How do you balance it all?

A: I have three young boys, an almost 10-year old, 4-year old twins, a husband and a dog.  We have a busy house. I don’t know that I have a lot of great tips about making it all work.  I try to stay very organized with my days and my time. I also try to outsource everything, because I learned a long time ago that I can’t do everything, and why would I want to?  For example, why would I want to clean house on a Saturday when I could spend that time with my family.  I also try to be happy with things sometimes just the way they are going to be… and laugh a lot!

Q:  What are some of the ways you take care of yourself so you can thrive while juggling all of these roles?

A: I really, really try to exercise a couple of times a week at least. I run. That’s about all I can eek out. It gives me a chance to clear my head and think about things.

Miriam Paramore is COO at Lucro, a marketplace that connects healthcare organizations and health IT vendors. She is a HIMSS Fellow, a past member of the HIMSS North America board, past chair of the HIMSS Business Solutions Committee, and has served in many other volunteer capacities for HIMSS over the past 20 years.

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