As part of the HUB week series, the Massachusetts Digital Health Initiative hosted an Oct. 13 panel entitled “The Women Behind Digital Health.” The panel was moderated by Maeghan Welford, who is the Chief of Staff at Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and a Senior Advisor at the Mass Digital Health Initiative. She led speakers Ashley Reid, Nancy Brown, Carla Small, and Sasha Said in discussions about the role that female entrepreneurs play in shaping the healthcare technology landscape.
Reid is the founder and CEO of Wellist, which is a growing Boston based digital health company that seeks to improve the patient experience by data driven results through advisory services, digital health tools, in-hospital concierges and call center navigators. Wellist works with major area hospitals such as Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and more. Brown is a venture partner at Oak HC/FT, a premier venture growth equity fund, a Board Member on axialHealthcare, a Board Observer on Limeade, and a mentor at Mass Challenge with over 25 years of clinical, executive, and consulting experience. Small is the Senior Director of the Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator (IDHA) at Boston Children’s Hospital where she leads the innovation accelerator. Said is Vice President and a member of the founding team of Leerink Transformative Partners which focuses on growth equity investments in privately held healthcare technology companies. She is also a board director of Vera Health, an investor in Outcome Health, and she formerly worked in the digital health and technology section of Waypoint Capital, which funded digital health and life science technology companies.
When asked about current challenges in the industry, Brown voiced that in her opinion, “derisking” was the greatest problem. “This is an incredibly slow industry to change. It just absolutely amazes me,” she said, citing hospitals’ slow transition to EPIC. “It’s such a problem in terms of health systems because [hospitals] are absolutely so disheartened by change.” Reid agreed with Brown, saying risk aversion is a fundamental issue when introducing positive change into already existing systems. Reid thinks a solution to this issue is more state funding that pays for results so that digital health entrepreneurs are able to launch pilot programs in hospitals.
When speaking about gender challenges in the industry, Welford cited some shocking statistics. According to a Rock Health 2016 report 0% of healthcare fortune 100 companies have a female CEO in the US. Only 8% of the top 100 hospitals in the US are led by a woman. None of the healthcare informatics companies in Massachusetts are led by women despite the state’s high volume of these companies. According to Mass Digital Health Innovation research, there are about 62 total women digital health CEOs out of 350 in the state.
Said responded, “we all benefit from the perspectives of both genders and we behave better when we have both genders. Our perspective in this industry is very important and it doesn’t make sense not to have it.” Reid is optimistic about changing these statistics, emphasizing the importance of women “paying it forward” meaning offering mentorship to those behind one’s career position as well as seeking help and giving it from those ahead in their careers.
Leah D’Sa is a Junior studying Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College. She is currently a copyeditor for the school newspaper the Berkeley Beacon as well as Poetry Editor for the literary magazine the Emerson Review. She is looking to begin her career with health technology writing as she seeks to combine her lifelong love of writing and science.
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