Women In Healthcare Technology: “We Need A Healthcare Revolution!”

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The commonality between these four female CEOs of health tech companies is easy – play a role in the revolution of the healthcare technology industry.

By Radostina Stoycheva (Business Development, SweetWater Health)

The healthcare system is broken and we all know it. So what are we doing about it? Or more specifically, what are women doing about?

Most recently, Rock Health has been rounding up women in health with their “xx in health” week. The statistics speak for themselves – women make up 73% of medical and health services managers, but only 14% of healthcare VC partners and 4% of healthcare CEOs.

We spoke with four women in charge of health technology companies. We raised some questions to see what they are doing, why they are doing it and what they think it will change. The commonality between the four female CEOs is easy – play a role in the revolution of the healthcare technology industry.

Alison Harmelin (Founder, Zeel)

Zeel makes it easy to find top health and wellness experts, compare prices, and book appointments online.

Where did the idea for Zeel come from?

Alison Harmelin: The idea for Zeel came from real-life problems my husband and I were struggling to solve. I had just had my second child and was suffering from very bad lower back pain. Painkillers were not an option for me, so I started looking into complementary and alternative therapies, like acupuncture and physical therapy. I went onto the Internet hoping to find a good provider in my area and was surprised by the absolute lack of credible information. It was impossible to tell who was qualified or who specialized in my specific diagnosis (a bulging disc). And of course, there was no way to book online, which just saves so much time and trouble.

What is your mission, other than money?

Alison Harmelin: We are very focused on ways to help alleviate the healthcare crisis in this country.

What’s your outlook on the healthcare system being broken? Do you think it is? Do you think it will be fixed with technology?

Alison Harmelin: It literally keeps me up at night. Of all the struggles we’re facing as a nation, healthcare is the one that vexes me the most. We need a healthcare revolution.

What do you think women in leadership positions bring to the health tech industry that has been missing?

Alison Harmelin: A woman’s perspective is always unique. I think we tend to be very holistic in terms of our decision-making. By that I mean, “How will this affect me? How will it affect my children? How will it affect my community?” Women tend to contribute in a very broad way.

What’s the next step for you and the company?

Alison Harmelin: We are moving into new categories and new markets very quickly. We’ve recently added chiropractors to the network and are adding vetted providers in every category all across the country. My goal is for anyone, anywhere, to get the help they need as quickly as possible.

Ronda Collier (CEO, SweetWater Health)

SweetWater Health empowers people to proactively manage their health by providing clinical-grade heart rate variability monitoring software that detects HRV patterns related to a specific medical condition or state of wellness. This insight enables and encourages people to make changes to improve health and wellbeing. SweetWater Health also provides clinicians with a revolutionary mobile HRV diagnostic solution for use with patients and clients.

Where did the idea for SweetWater Health come from?

Ronda Collier: It all started when I wrote my thesis. It talks about quantum physics up through the levels to business systems and how to create a healthy business. You get into living systems, biological systems, and patterns in nature. Basically everything is energy and everything has a frequency. It’s all patterns and relationships. An eye is not useful without the brain, the cortex, and the nervous system to connect them. Then I became interested in resonance and keeping the body aligned through sound and frequencies, and that led me to HeartMath. I started getting interested in their ideas because it brought me back to my thesis of patterns and relationships. It’s the pattern of the heartbeat and the frequency of the signals and the pattern embedded in that frequency of signals that really is how the nervous system works.

What were the first steps you had to take in creating SweetWater Health?

Ronda Collier: I spent a year contemplating how to do this, hoping someone would just walk up to me and hand me money. I read a book by Laura Langmeier; she coaches people to become their own boss and start their own businesses. She finds people’s “lazy assets,” money that’s not working for them. I had this Intel stock that was just sitting there. So that’s what started it. I sold the Intel stock. I knew how to get it started. I knew the hardware was coming. This was just a year ago.

What is your mission, other than money?

Ronda Collier: I want SWH to provide a means for people to help themselves. People look to doctors and pills for answers when they have the key right in their own hands. It’s called awareness and behavior change. People don’t get at the root cause when they take a pill. Our bodies are self-healing. All you have to do is allow them the space to do that.

What’s your outlook on the healthcare system being broken? Do you think it is? Do you think it will be fixed with technology?

Ronda Collier: The healthcare system is very broken, though it will not be fixed by technology alone. Reform begins with personal responsibility for one’s health, and technology will help people with this. Once individuals take responsibility and become their own advocates, they can walk into a doctor office and have a two-way conversation rather than treating the doctor as all knowing and doing whatever they say without question.

What do you think women bring to the table as leaders in the health tech industry that has been missing?

Ronda Collier: While men represent the patriarchy, women tend to live through fraternity (versus matriarchy), which allows for a balanced exchange of ideas and actions.

What’s the next step for you and the company?

Ronda Collier: Continue to develop products that help people to help themselves and that provide meaningful information to individuals and health professionals.

Rebecca Palm (CEO, CoPatient)

Paying for healthcare is complicated. CoPatient will analyze your medical bills free of charge to uncover errors and understand if what you’ve been charged is in line with what other providers in your area are charging for the same service. CoPatient will appeal any charges that we believe are incorrect. We will also negotiate reduced rates for any charges that are significantly higher than the norm for your area. You only pay for our appeal service if we are successful at reducing your medical bill.

Where did the idea for CoPatient come from?

Rebecca Palm: My partner and I worked for Athena Health, helping doctors manage payments from insurance companies. We realized that doctors are only seeing a small portion of the patients’ bills, rather than the whole. After looking at consumer space as a whole, we realized why patients weren’t paying their bills: they were confused, didn’t agree, or didn’t know how to go about fixing the problem. They needed help to figure out if they were getting overcharged and to understand the terminology.

What were the first steps you had to take in creating CoPatient?

Rebecca Palm: Once we identified the problem, we worked on refining the business plan, revenue model and finding a team to put the pieces in place. Next you have to find the right technology, operation, key people to execute different aspects, etc.

What’s your outlook on the healthcare system being broken? Do you think it is? Do you think it will be fixed with technology?

Rebecca Palm: Yes, it is broken. This technology is just the beginning. Patients want a better understanding of bills, insight into the process of how they get billed for different procedures. Not all states require disclosure on payments. Consumers want to do the right thing, but are uneducated. This is a step to bring consumer data onto a single platform.

I heard once that women are the caretakers of the world. Therefore, their role as caretakers in the healthcare industry was inevitable. Do you think this is true?

Rebecca Palm: The woman in the household is directing the healthcare decisions. Women see issues first hand, so this might be why women are finding their way into leadership roles in the industry.

What do you think women in leadership positions bring to the health tech industry that has been missing?

Rebecca Palm: Not a gender issue as much as it is a creativity issue. It has not appealed to entrepreneurs to be in the healthcare industry until now. Healthcare needs new creative experts from different industries to get interested.

What’s the next step for you and the company?

Rebecca Palm: We are in the process of building the technology platform. Beta will be coming out soon. Right now you can submit a bill to CoPatient. It will get reviewed manually. It’s been fascinating. I have not seen a single bill without an error so far. It’s kind of depressing. The long-term goals for CoPatient are to solve these problems and educate the consumer.

Jessica Rios (CEO, iCouch.me)

iCouch makes it easy to find the perfect therapist, schedule a session right away for you and connect with high-quality, secure video.

Where did the idea for iCouch.me come from?

Jessica Rios: While we were living abroad (Suzhou, China) one of our friends needed to talk to a Spanish-speaking counselor. He found a counselor, but he’d have to travel two hours to get there, pay high rates, and pay for transportation. Even though there was motivation and need, he wasn’t willing to do all that for therapy. I referred him to a colleague of mine back in Mexico, and after several video sessions, he was able to continue with his life. At that time, I was finishing my second masters degree and I read about telehealth psychology and how it’s been helpful in many studies. So my co-founder Brian Dear and I began to plan iCouch on a napkin in a cramped Chinese apartment!

What were the first steps you had to take in creating iCouch.me?

Jessica Rios: We researched and read the ethical guidelines and laws on telehealth. Once we had a foundation of the “right” way to do things, we then set to designing the best possible user experience. We wanted to build a virtual place that felt less like going to a sterile hospital and more like visiting a stylish but approachable friend’s home.

What’s your outlook on the healthcare system being broken? Do you think it is? Do you think it will be fixed with technology?

Jessica Rios: It’s broken. It isn’t about politics either. It’s about the entire concept that mental health is somehow secondary to physical health, yet study after study reveals that physical health is directly and profoundly impacted by mental health care (or lack of it.) For example, one study in particular has shown a very strong correlation between post-cardiac surgical recovery and receiving mental health counseling during the surgical recovery period. The group receiving counseling (even if they had no underlying mental illness) recovered more than 50% faster than the control group and had to return to the hospital much less for follow-up care.

What do you think women in leadership positions bring to the health tech industry that has been missing?

Jessica Rios: It isn’t about gender, it’s about the ability to take risks and dare to kick the cage of how it’s always been done. Women and men often approach problems differently, but all healthcare entrepreneurs have one thing in common—a burning desire to change things. Having more people willing to ruffle the feathers of the industry is the most important thing; gender is irrelevant. We need women to attain leadership positions (or start more companies) because we as a society need more ideas, more solutions and more competition.

What’s the next step for you and the company?

Jessica Rios: The next step is to leverage mobile even more. We have primarily been a desktop/web-based service. However, we’re developing some amazing things that will bring therapy to the world’s fingertips.

When asked the question, “Do you consider your technology/approach to be disruptive to the current system?” all four CEOs answered, “Yes.” Their reasoning was that people are lacking these tools, and need help to find the healthcare they need.

“Two-thirds of the time, personal bankruptcy is linked to healthcare bills,” says Rebecca Palm of CoPatient. Alison Harmelin and Ronda Collier agreed that people need these tools to keep themselves out of hospitals. Ronda from SweetWater Health said that while we are getting used to progressive medicine in the West, “For alternative health professionals, it may be disruptive
since it provides an inexpensive way to monitor the nervous system and provide meaningful results that will allow the practitioner to monitor progress of the treatment.” Jessica Rios wants to take mental health care out of the office and bring it to the patient’s comfort zone — his or her own couch!

The question still remains, what will it take to bring this healthcare reform into action? According to these women, it is going to take more creative ideas from different business industries, a customer knowledge foundation (like CoPatient and SweetWater Health), and the infusion of technology.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Radostina Stoycheva is the business development manager for SweetWater Health. She works on grass roots business development, social media marketing and public relations for this mHealth company. Born in Bulgaria and hailing most recently from Virginia, Radostina graduated with honors from George Mason University with a BA in Communication. Radostina moved to Cupertino, California, where she continued her profession of public relations and business development.