…I would like there to be more discussion, research, and support for women (and men) who are struggling with real-life challenges that are not typically regarded as “health” issues, but dramatically affect actual health and quality of life. Those include topics like sleep, sex life, loneliness, nutrition, exercise as prevention, wellness and social engagement activity. We provide content that directly or indirectly addresses all those real-world challenges that women face, and it is one of our goals to provide them resources and information so they can take action and improve their lives — while also advocating for support among health care providers and policy makers as well
I had the pleasure to interview Beth Battaglino, RN. Since 199, Beth has led HealthyWomen as CEO, combining more than 25 years of front-line women’s health care experience with savvy business expertise to push the organization in new directions. In 2016, she successfully launched the HealthyWomen Policy Center, while 2017 saw the creation of its science and technology division, including the launch of two powerful interdisciplinary events focused on chronic pain and migraines. Battaglino is also a practicing nurse in maternal child health at Riverview Medical Center — Hackensack Meridian Health, in Red Bank, New Jersey.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Beth! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After college, I knew I wanted to do something in health care, and possibly policy, but wasn’t sure what that sort of career might be. I began working at the National Women’s Health Resource Center, HealthyWomen’s predecessor, as a Program Coordinator to fund my graduate education. I answered phones, stuffed envelopes, researched and shared information with women seeking answers to their health questions. I even created a database of national nonprofit organizations. It was an exciting and challenging time that gave me the opportunity to wear many hats.
The 1990s and early 2000s were a time pivotal in women’s health. We saw the first research on postmenopausal women, announcement of the Women’s Health Initiative findings, major campaigns and education on breast cancer, and a focus on including women in clinical research.
During that period, the National Women’s Health Resource Center was the only organization providing medically vetted health information to women nationwide. We offered a toll-free number with a live person answering the phone (me!) and took on any and all women’s health questions, from breast implants to pelvic organ prolapse. No question was too big or small for us.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
There have been so many but one that put us on the map was the moment when HealthyWomen.org was named a top women’s health site by Oprah and Dr. Oz. I was on a plane, sitting on the tarmac waiting for take-off. The flight was delayed and my phone rang. It was a colleague calling to congratulate me and HealthyWomen. She was reading Oprah magazine and there we were! I had no idea Oprah was creating the list or how we made it on their radar but I could not have been more delighted. It was like winning the lottery! It truly had a catalyst-effect, as we learned shortly after that Forbes named us best women’s health site and we received that honor again the following year. I will gladly take those wins!
Can you tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the health care field?
Prior to joining HealthyWomen, I had no idea what “women’s health” meant beyond my own annual visit to my OB/GYN! More than 25 years later, I am very happy to have earned a head seat at the table for me and my organization through listening, learning and guiding change among the major stakeholders that directly impact women’s health, including government officials, health care providers, researchers and industry players.
To ensure fair and balanced information, however, it is extremely important that real women are able to share their own stories as well. That’s why I do feel my voice matters along with that of HealthyWomen. To that end, I speak and share my knowledge and experiences but also listen as well. We work with partners to add to our own knowledge base and elevate our expertise. I don’t believe in recreating the wheel. Instead, we aim to understand the problem, understand solutions already in the works and understand how we can strengthen them. I want results and I want HealthyWomen programs to make a difference. That’s why I am adamant that everything we do includes clear goals, expected outcomes and report mapping.
What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We know our audience. We embrace change and continue to evolve our platform to provide information and resources in ways our audience would like to receive it. What makes us stand out is our creativity and our ability to partner with other companies and organizations in order to create unique programs that have a long shelf-life. From advocating for women’s self-care with our #BeHealthiHer campaign to raising awareness on important topics such as chronic pain, endometriosis and menopause, HealthyWomen continues to be at the forefront for important women’s health issues. Particularly in the past few years, women’s health has been faced with an unparalleled threat to our access to equal and affordable health care. At HealthyWomen, we want to empower women to demand that policy makers protect our health.
Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?
As you know, the health care industry changes daily with advancements in devices and treatments, as well as communications and interactions between patients and health care providers. Take rise of telemedicine, for example. Consumers have so many more options when it comes to accessing information online making the challenge of sifting through information and finding medically accurate, evidence-based content to make informed decisions harder than ever. At HealthyWomen, we track, embrace and execute on emerging trends in not only health care but digital strategy as well. On our site, you can learn about a variety of health topics that are important to women, along with current treatments and questions to ask your health care provider, along with resources to help you navigate your next steps. You also can learn about other women living with the same condition through our “Real Women, Real Stories” essays. I am particularly proud of this channel, as it helps women feel that they’re not alone when suffering from the same or similar condition.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
I couldn’t stop at 5!
- If you are going to start a business, you need to really love it.Some weeks I find there is a lot of travel, a lot of late nights. It can be very difficult to leave my family, and at times, I feel like my life is being held together with duct tape. If I didn’t truly love what I am doing, I don’t think I would be willing to make the sacrifices required to run our organization. In fact I know I wouldn’t.
- Listen. It’s ok not to talk. I am not afraid to admit that I am not always the person in the room with the most experience. I often leave meetings knowing more about a subject than I knew going in.
- Okay is not okay. You have to be better than okay and expect the same from everyone on your team. As a virtual company, our team works all over the country. Although we have on-site meetings and weekly conference calls, it is integral for a company to thrive by trusting and empowering your team to do their best every day.
- Own It. Own what is yours when it is good and when it is bad.
- Find a mentor. I have one and it has made all the difference in the world! She is beyond brilliant, brutally honest, fun, kind and respectful. I hit the jackpot.
- Never be afraid of change. Small wins can lead to significant success. HealthyWomen has stayed the nation’s leading information source for women health information by constantly evolving. I follow that same mentality personally as well. You have to continue to change in order to advance.
- Failure is part of success. In my 20s and 30s I didn’t accept failure’s role in my success. And yet, failing is what has made me stronger and provided me with the resilience to succeed. I should put that on a t-shirt!
Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share why you think the US is ranked so poorly?
Numerous studies show that the U.S. health care system is both great and broken. What’s great is the technology and superb care offered by excellent committed health care providers, for those patients who can access it. But our health care system is broken too because of high costs that make accessing care problematic or impossible for too many people. Clearly, the U.S. needs to improve disparities in access and affordability, and one aspect of that is trying to improve what are called the social determinants of health, including environmental factors, nutrition and education about self-care. Those are all areas where HealthyWomen seeks to educate and empower women as well as engage policy makers.
You are a “healthcare insider.” Can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
It is important to distinguish between improving health care and our actual health. I believe it is important to focus not just on what we typically think of as “health care” issues, such as health care providers, hospitals and medicine, but to look at what will improve a woman’s own health through prevention, wellness and self-care.
Take pregnancy and post-natal care. A recent HealthyWomen survey found that women aren’t getting support and information they need from their health care providers during this important moment in their lives. Equally distressing, for women who work, employer support is nearly non-existent. Meanwhile, we now know that post-pregnancy-related conditions such as postpartum depression, diabetes and urinary incontinence are even more common than previously thought. Simply put, new moms need better support from their clinical teams.
We also need to eliminate the discomfort — and often, the stigma — that surrounds many women’s health issues. For instance, urinary incontinence often occurs with women after pregnancy and as they get older, but too many women still feel uncomfortable talking about it with their health care providers. If Period. End of Sentence, a documentary about menstruation, can win an academy award, I think that women should be made to feel more comfortable talking about urinary incontinence, endometriosis pain or mental health concerns like postpartum depression.
Third and fourth, I would like there to be more discussion, research, and support for women (and men) who are struggling with real-life challenges that are not typically regarded as “health” issues, but dramatically affect actual health and quality of life. Those include topics like sleep, sex life, loneliness, nutrition, exercise as prevention, wellness and social engagement activity. HealthyWomen provides content that directly or indirectly addresses all those real-world challenges that women face, and it is one of our goals to provide them resources and information so they can take action and improve their lives — while also advocating for support among health care providers and policy makers as well
And lastly, more needs to be done to help people with the most serious chronic conditions, especially in terms of controlling patient costs. Conditions such as diabetes and heart disease along mental health and substance use disorders are medical problems that can be improved dramatically with focused and individualized care. But this approach requires us to rethink how care can be provided through coordinated teams rather than discrete groups of health care providers. Intensive team-based care will require up-front investments, but the savings will be significant, and more importantly, so will the health and well-being of our patients.
Thank you! It’s great to suggest changes, but what specific steps would need to be taken to implement your ideas? What can individuals, corporations, communities and leaders do to help?
Talk to each other. Listen and work with each other. Recognize that improvements to women’s health and family health will lead to better health for communities, more vibrant economic conditions and even job growth for cities and regions. Individuals battling preventable or treatable health conditions hurts our society in terms of direct costs (and higher taxes) while also making them less able to live productive and full lives, not to mention those of the family members who must provide care and transportation for them.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
- Atul Gawande’s books, including Being Mortal and Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, include actionable insights and steps for what people, health care providers and policy makers can do to improve health and healthcare. His articles and speeches are also great.
- The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates
- Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits: Developing Leadership Behavior That Drives Profitability in Your Organization,” by Leslie Wilk Braksick