Data Waterfalls Lead to Diversity at Health Datapalooza

The 9th annual Health Datapalooza conference kicked off last Wednesday in Washington, DC – rated the best city in the US for working women by MagnifyMoney. Salaries, compensation and strategies to help women in health IT negotiate for what they’re worth (and then some) were on my mind as the #healthITchicks pre-conference session, “Meeting, Leading and Succeeding,” kicked off that afternoon. You can read a recap of that event here.

As I mentioned in an AcademyHealth blog several weeks ago, this was my first foray into the world of Health Datapalooza and it did not disappoint. I found the event to be easy to navigate logistically, full of great content and networking opportunities, and an overall refreshing change from #HIMSSanity. Health Datapalooza was understandably more focused on the ways data can be leveraged to improve healthcare. It certainly gave me a better understanding of the role government data plays in helping research and resultant innovation happen. And I must say the bird’s eye view of HHS officials was a welcome one. (For a deeper dive into the conference from a health data perspective, check out @drnic1‘s review.)

Co-chairs Dr. Rasu Shrestha and Kelsey Mellard reiterated from beginning to end the value Health Datapalooza holds when it comes to getting out of our comfort zones to diversify our networks. Kelsey’s call to action echoed what I try to stress at each of our events – don’t let the day end without meeting someone new.

Data and diversity flowed into Twitter VP of Inclusion & Diversity Candi Castleberry-Singleton’s presentation on “Me. We. Us. The World. #GrowTogether.” Candi also encouraged attendees to literally rub elbows as we all pondered the powerful role of diverse backgrounds, viewpoints and experiences in driving innovation.

The intertwined themes were still on my mind Friday morning when Devoted Health co-founder Todd Park and Venrock partner Bryan Roberts kicked off the conference with a discussion on investment in health IT. Both agreed that no one will invest in something if it’s not going to bring any benefit (Theranos debacle aside) – an obvious statement that got me thinking about parallels to the issues women in tech currently face. As media outlets and social networking communities like ours shine a spotlight on the issues of equal pay and a lack of female leadership in the C-suite, among others, have we stopped to gather and present cold, hard data on the ROI women bring to the boardroom and bottom line? I know studies have been done, but I’m beginning to think Health Datapalooza 2019 may be in need of a data-driven session on this very topic.

The intertwining themes were also evident during Friday’s panel on investment and innovation in digital health. GE Ventures Senior Managing Director, Healthcare, Lisa Suennen received a round of applause when she called out the refreshingly “different” all-female panel. AcademyHealth, which organized Health Datapalooza, was very intentional about avoiding “manels” whenever possible. Kudos to their team for proving it can be done in a way that didn’t feel completely arbitrary.

Somewhere along the way a panelist mentioned the “waterfall effect,” which refers to “benefits that cascade down through the organization, into the community, and out to the customer/client base.” Again, I couldn’t help but put this leadership phrase into a #healthITchicks context. With the right data on diversity and its benefits, a waterfall effect could surely be created at health IT organizations, particularly those intent on being truly innovative. As the health data haiku above points out, data equals opportunities to change our broken system. I’m sure the same applies for increasing opportunities for women in health IT.


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