Beth Battaglino of ‘HealthyWomen’: “Stop focusing on “sick care””

Stop focusing on “sick care.” Healthcare leaders must shift the nation’s “sick care” approach to care that is preventive and comprehensive. We see this all the time, people put off getting treatments because of high deductible health plans. By the time they seek care, many need hospitalization for something that could have been treated with […]

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Stop focusing on “sick care.” Healthcare leaders must shift the nation’s “sick care” approach to care that is preventive and comprehensive.

We see this all the time, people put off getting treatments because of high deductible health plans. By the time they seek care, many need hospitalization for something that could have been treated with a low-cost antibiotic. It does not make sense. What could have cost less than 100 dollars now costs thousands, or tens of thousands.

As a part of my interview series with leaders in health care, I had the pleasure to interview Beth Battaglino, RN-C, president and CEO of HealthyWomen, the nation’s leading organization for women’s health and wellness.

Beth Battaglino, RN, chief executive officer, HealthyWomen, brings a unique combination of sharp business expertise and women’s health insight to her leadership of the organization. Beth has worked in the healthcare industry for more than 25 years helping to define and drive public education programs on a broad range of women’s health issues. She launched and has expanded the brand and is responsible for the business development and strategic positioning of the organization. HealthyWomen now connects to millions of women across the country through its wide program distribution and innovative use of technology. Beth serves as the organization’s chief spokesperson, regularly participating in corporate, nonprofit, community and media events. She also is a practicing nurse in maternal child health at Riverview Medical Center, Hackensack Meridian Health, in Red Bank, New Jersey. In addition to her nursing degree, Beth holds degrees in political science, business and public administration from Marymount University.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I had just graduated from college and needed a job so that I could stay in Washington, D.C., and one that had a strong pull in health care, specifically in nursing. I interviewed for a volunteer coordinator at Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, D.C., and during my interview the human resources coordinator offered me a completely different position with the National Women’s Health Resource Center, which later became known as HealthyWomen.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Two things actually come to mind. The first thing is creating a team where we all worked virtually, which was unheard of in the late ’90s. It took a lot of convincing board members, and even clients, as to why this would work. Although some people couldn’t imagine how a virtual company could be successful, others quickly saw the value and asked for the blueprint. Of course, fast forward to the past eight months when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and none of my employees have needed to transition to a new way of life — it’s simply business as usual.

The second interesting story was that we successfully launched the first site for women’s health. And we have continued to elevate our mission and audience throughout the years.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, failing is what makes us successful, and there have been quite a few missteps over the years. Looking back, I realize the launch of HealthyWomen’s website was all wrong. We literally took our four-page newsletter and plopped it up on the site. It was like reading an encyclopedia. The content was very informative, but very long. We quickly realized that our content was incredible, but we needed easy-to-follow stories and more digestible pieces of information. We did keep the deeper dive content but housed that in a different section on the site.

The other funny mistake as a small business just starting out was a giveaway we launched on the site. We had no idea so many people would request our free pregnancy planner. I definitely learned the hard way and spent many Saturdays fulfilling online orders, addressing them and filling up my car multiple times to bulk mail booklets. We soon realized there are actual fulfillment centers to handle such issues.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We stand out because of our credibility, the quality of our programs and editorial content and the audience we reach and engage with daily. We are serving a need in providing credible health information and resources for women and their families.

What advice would you give to other healthcare leaders to help their team to thrive?

Embrace change. You must continue to evolve your services, how you speak to your audience and how you offer them solutions.

OK, thank you for that. Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the U.S. healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high-income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the U.S. is ranked so poorly?

The U.S. emphasizes “sick care” instead of health care as a human right: We spend our money on the outcomes of unmanaged illness rather than on early prevention and intervention.

U.S. maternal and infant mortality rates are on the rise: Unfortunately, there are multiple reasons for this problem. One reason is the increase of obstetrical deserts where there is little prenatal care and long distances to delivery units.

The U.S. has a fragmented health care system: Unlike other industrialized nations, the U.S. healthcare system doesn’t prioritize comprehensive primary care. Health care is uncoordinated and fragmented and emphasizes intervention rather than prevention and comprehensive health management.

You are a “healthcare insider.” If you had the power to make a change, can you share changes that need to be made to improve the overall U.S. healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.

  • Stop focusing on “sick care.” Healthcare leaders must shift the nation’s “sick care” approach to care that is preventive and comprehensive.

We see this all the time, people put off getting treatments because of high deductible health plans. By the time they seek care, many need hospitalization for something that could have been treated with a low-cost antibiotic. It does not make sense. What could have cost less than 100 dollars now costs thousands, or tens of thousands.

  • Investment! We need to invest in rural communities.

Some rural communities have a higher maternal mortality rate than those of third-world countries, yet they are continuing to close hospitals around the country. Healthcare leaders must invest in the health care of rural communities and provide cost-effective access.

  • Full practice. Allow nurse practitioners (NPs) to have full practice rights.

Right now we have 25 states that allow NPs full practice. Support full practice and licensure laws that will permit all NPs to evaluate patients; diagnose, order and interpret diagnostic tests; and initiate and manage treatments, including prescribing medications and controlled substances, under the exclusive licensure authority of the state board of nursing. This is the model recommended by the National Academy of Medicine, formerly called the Institute of Medicine, and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. This will help increase access to comprehensive, preventive health care, especially in shortage areas and hospital settings.

  • Technology. The continued use of technology to improve access and reduce costs.

Healthcare leaders can improve access and reduce costs by investing in and utilizing telemedicine, artificial intelligence and electronic health records. Telemedicine is not just a tool for patients — in fact, research has shown that patient usage doesn’t reduce cost. The real power (and cost savings) comes when it is utilized by the primary care doctor and NP in partnership with the patient to access specialists. For example, telemedicine can be used in rural hospitals to provide access to specialty care, like oncology, enabling the primary care provider to deliver the necessary treatment in their own office with the guidance of the oncologist. How awesome is that?

OK, it’s very nice to suggest changes, but what concrete steps would have to be done to actually manifest these changes? What can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to help?

  • Support family medicine, physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners: We need to boost the numbers of healthcare providers who practice in family medicine.
  • Promote mandatory primary care spending from insurance providers: We need to work with healthcare provider organizations, including state chapters for nurse practitioners and family practitioners, to pursue mandatory primary care spending through legislation.
  • Health insurance plans should allow primary care visits without a deductible, or at least a limited number of visits without a deductible. Primary care should be considered more like a utility than a service.

I’m interested in the interplay between the general healthcare system and the mental health system. Right now, we have two parallel tracks, mental/behavioral health and general health. What are your thoughts about this status quo? What would you suggest to improve this?

So, now I will put on my nursing hat! Much of what I have seen in practice correlates with a patient’s mental health. Mental and behavioral health are part of our general health and should be treated as such. From HealthyWomen’s perspective, everything we cover includes or touches upon mental health and well-being. We are working hard to destigmatize mental health, providing a platform where women can share their stories and provide resources. The role of technology is also vital to help with access issues and affordability. Policy, education, research and technology all play vital roles in improving and ensuring it’s all part of general health and wellness. We are making progress, but we are not there yet.

How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?

Someone who treats every patient as if they were their own mom or dad.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I didn’t get there by wishing for it or hoping for it, but by working for it.”
 — Estee Lauder

My Magic 8-Ball did not work when it came to how to build an online business in the late ’90s. If I just sat back and waited, we would have lost the opportunity. I realized I had one chance to make it work, and that is exactly what I did. You do need to put in the work.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are always working on exciting projects! We have a pipeline of programs that are all focused on “Aging Smart, Aging Well,” to include a National Action Plan that focuses on everything I mentioned above — the importance of health, preventive health and ensuring women make themselves a priority.

We are changing the conversation on aging. We know the importance of preventive screenings; we know that if we start taking better care of ourselves earlier we will age well. We are committed to improving women’s health, addressing the gaps and moving it forward. Our Aging Smart, Aging Well campaign focuses on changing perceptions on midlife and the importance of taking care of you.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?

Between running a company, working extra shifts at the hospital and, let’s not forget, at home teaching grammar school and working as head chef in the never-closing kitchen, I have not had much “me time,” however, here are a few of my favorites.

Podcast Picks

How I Built This

Skimm This

Keep It

The Girlfriends’ Guide


To Kill a Mockingbird

The Catcher in the Rye

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, it would be to create a new system to manage addiction/mental health.

I would love to set up an effective in-house facility to help those who are battling addiction, similar to St. Judes Children’s Hospital, creating a model for addiction that provides cutting-edge treatment without having to worry about one bill. It would be a facility that supports the patient and family and would provide help to anyone who wanted to receive it.

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