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Groundbreaking HBA Metro Chapter Event Highlights Innovation and Advancement in Women's Healthcare

Fact: It was only a little more than a decade ago that research began to be published about the differences in women’s heart attack symptoms.

Fact: It was not until 2006 that the first woman-specific knee replacement device received FDA approval – and, while women receive the majority of hip replacements, we do not know why women are 30% more likely than men to need repeat surgery in less than two years.

Fact: Since 2003, HHS has annually issued a report identifying gaps and opportunities for improving health care quality and reducing health care disparities in treating women and other underserved populations.

With this backdrop, impassioned HBA Metro chapter women joined forces to present last month's Women’s Healthcare Innovation and Leadership Showcase (WHILS), which highlighted advancements and assessed challenges in women’s healthcare. (View the program)

Presented on October 15 in partnership with Sanofi, Quintiles and, the WHILS included a panel of nationally-recognized healthcare leaders who shared their experiences and perspectives with more than 300 attendees who came to interact with the panelists, as well as a specially curated group of 18 institutions exhibiting their advancements in women’s health.

“We were proud to host the Women’s Healthcare Innovation and Leadership Showcase,” said Anne Whitaker, president, NA Pharmaceuticals, Sanofi, which the doors of its Bridgewater campus to welcome participants. “The cross-functional, think-tank approach was incredibly well-conceived. Sharing experiences, insights and aspirations in this way across a diverse group of experts focused on a common problem can drive meaningful insights that can change our path forward.”

Hosting the event-opening VIP reception, Quintiles VP of North America Commercial Solutions Daryl Gaugler set the tone for the evening, noting that although “life expectancy for women has increased by 50% in just the last 20 years, there’s still a long way to go.” He shared his pride that “Quintiles has been involved in developing and commercializing 19 of the top 20 therapies for conditions affecting women. We know that in order to drive the best-possible outcomes, it is critical to understand not only women’s unique biology, but also how they need to be supported in our healthcare system.”

Exhibitors were selected for their relevance based on their innovations in basic research, medical practice, health literacy and/or access. Exhibits ranged from new approaches to reducing fibromyalgia pain, to strategies for reducing maternal mortality, improving maternal nutrition and improving data collection on gender differences, to leveraging grassroots and multimedia communications campaigns to reduce the impact of a leading killer such as heart disease.

A highlight of the evening was the panel discussion. The luminary participants discussed strategies for understanding and meeting the needs of patients and their caregivers, levers for improving decision-making, templates for engaging existing systems to address unmet needs, and aligning incentives across communities.

Nieca Goldberg, cardiologist, director of the NYU Langone Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health, and author of Women are not Small Men, noted in relation to women’s healthcare needs, “The medical system and we ourselves can miss or misunderstand what is blatantly before us because of the way we’re trained – or not trained – to look and to understand.”

Chief medical officer of Accolade, Dr. Alan Spiro, pointed to the myriad of healthcare decisions as one of the greatest challenges for patients and their advocates, “The average family is faced with about 2,500 healthcare decisions each year. Improving outcomes depends on improving decision-making and we can’t impact that process without earning our clients’ trust. If you can arm people with the information and tools to understand their choices, decision-making becomes easier and they feel better about the healthcare process.” CEO Beth Battaglino, who is also a practicing OB/GYN nurse specialist, concurred, “Our most important role may be supporting better communications. Our online communities, for instance, are a tremendous resource for women to learn from and share with each other -- and the community feedback and conversations help us to keep a pulse on women’s evolving healthcare needs and understand what strategies might best address them.”

“Beyond their own health, women have a tremendous impact as arbiters of healthcare in their families and their communities,” said Dr. Anne Beal, head of engagement for the ACA-created Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. “At PCORI, we are engaging female patients and caretakers as advisors to help us define research priorities, design trials and interpret results. Giving patients and their advocates this attention and weight in the research process is in itself innovative.”

Dr. Julie Gerberding, president of Merck Vaccines and the first and only woman to head the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, talked about a number of critical subjects, including the opportunity to amplify our impact by focusing on community as the key unit of interest, rather than the individual or even the family. “Ultimately,” she said, “the social determinants of health are community-based. The people who have the largest stake in the health of a community are the people who live within that community. So, what if we help align the community even further around ‘is our health better?’ For instance, offering improved reimbursement, tax incentives and other benefits across communities when community health improves.”

These were just a few of the panelists’ reflections. All agreed that beyond discovering the practical answers that healthcare professionals and patients need, we must be strategic in how we share information to help empower individuals and optimize our healthcare system. The mantra was “out with the New England Journal of Medicine/in with grass roots engagement and traditional news and social media.” While putting effective communications tools in the hands of patients and healthcare providers can help tremendously in improving treatment process and outcomes, it is even more critical to align incentives across all players in the healthcare space.

As Dr. Gerberding concluded, “It takes a network of policy and interventions and systems of care to truly impact health.” As the courageous change agent, Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “A woman’s health is her capital.” This first-ever Women’s Healthcare Innovation and Leadership Showcase represents a natural progression of the work of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association. “The business of the HBA is growing and supporting women leaders to bring their unique talents to bear in the healthcare arena,” said HBA Metro chapter president, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, of Johnson & Johnson. “So, not only is it in our interest to help pave the way for the best possible care for the women we serve, but the women we serve are also in a unique position to help improve the lives of the women in our society and through them, to improve our society overall.”

Click here to view the program.

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