The word “thrive” has been helpful for me and uplifting to others. For example, instead of asking people if they are “just okay” or “surviving”, I now say, “I hope you are finding a way to thrive” when communicating during the crisis.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place. As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Miriam Paramore. Miriam Paramore is a health information technology leader and President of OptimizeRx. She helped lead Emdeon to the largest health IT IPO in history and is the architect of The U.S. Healthcare Efficiency Index™, the policy platform that resulted in the passage of the electronic healthcare payments provision of the Affordable Care Act. Paramore is a board member of Medsphere, a member of Advisory Board of RxREVU, a Senior Advisor at NueCura, and a Nashville Healthcare Fellow.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Istudied math and computer science on a college scholarship. This was just as computer science was emerging and there were very few women in the field. The career paths for those majors at the time were primarily math teachers or actuaries — neither of which interested me personally. I was 20 when I graduated and got a job out of college as a computer programmer. I enjoyed technology and was good at it. I was quickly drawn to the “applied science” aspect of technology. My first job was in healthcare and I stayed in the industry because it was so multifaceted and had so many opportunities for information technology to solve business problems. My passion for technology as a tool remains more than three decades later in my current role as President of OptimizeRx.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
My personal mission statement is to “Improve the healthcare industry through the power of information.” The most interesting time OPRX has been during this current COVID-19 crisis. Our company had a powerful reaction. Everyone at OptimizeRx rallied to do what they could to help the industry and our country. For us, that meant utilizing our platform. Within days, we created a free public service providing educational text alerts on the virus for both consumers and health professionals. The energy at our company helped us move past that feeling of helplessness and unleashed creativity and new ways of thinking. I have been in healthcare for 34 years and industry experts have been trying to solve some of the same problems for decades. This crisis has pushed us past the tipping point for adoption of new technology and communication platforms in healthcare.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am very proud of our company as we are leaning in, stepping up, and leading the way during the COVID-19 crisis. We are growing our existing platforms and developing new communication technologies during the pandemic to support patients, providers and the life sciences industry. Our digital care management company, RMDY, is helping people who are in need of mental health services talk to counselors virtually without missing any appointments. We are also seeing patients who are recovering from cardiac incidents continue their rehabilitation seamlessly through virtual care programs powered by our platform. OptimizeRx is creating innovative programs through our existing electronic health record (EHR) network to connect life sciences to providers who treat patients with chronic diseases so there is no disruption in treatment.
Technology solves access problems and we are seeing this in spades during the COVID crisis. On the patient side, virtual care and digital support programs provide better healthcare accessibility. Patients who are in rural or remote locations or those unable to physically get to a medical office can now have access to quality healthcare and support. On the provider side, telehealth tools offer physicians the ability to have a range of clinical data and health information in front of them while they are treating patients. Digital communications can make the difference as to whether a patient can get access to a medication and afford it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful for my friend George Lazenby, who was my boss at Emdeon (now Change Healthcare). I met George over twenty years ago through a technology industry trade group. When I first met George, he was based in Nashville and I was living in another town running my health IT consulting business. I had two small children at that time. At first, I worked as a consultant for George’s company, and then when he became CEO of Emdeon, he brought me on as his first executive team hire to run strategy and product development. That was a big break for me. We focused on building a highly scalable, network-based business that uses data to improve the efficiency of healthcare. We developed The U.S. Healthcare Efficiency Index™, the policy platform that resulted in the passage of the electronic healthcare payments provision of the Affordable Care Act. Our work helped save the industry billions of dollars by simply transferring information electronically instead of in the mail. We grew the business from $600 million to $1.2 billion and took it public. George always treated me as an equal and with respect. He recognized my ability to take complicated concepts, simplify them, and then create a growth strategy. I learned a lot about execution from George and how to “get things done.” I am very grateful for the opportunities he gave me and happy to call him a friend.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
Right now, so many of us are anxious about not having access to family members and not being able to do the normal things that we would do as families. My adult sons are living in another town and as a working woman and a mother, it is a challenge that I can’t see my sons right now. Both of my children had birthdays in April and while I can talk to them, I couldn’t see them or give them a hug on their birthdays. There is a still a sense of fear, even when they are grown, that something could happen and you can’t be with them. In addition, my mother is in a long-term care facility and I have the same challenge of not having access to her.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
About a week before most of the country went into lockdown, Nashville, where I live, was hit with a tornado. At that time, I set up a group text with my children and we promised to text each other something every day as a check-in. My son made it fun, by asking me to pick a music genre each time and he sends me some of his favorite songs. Video chats with my sons and friends have been very helpful as well. We need that human connection.
Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? We are seeing so many health challenges and economic devastation in this country so we are challenged as business leaders to keep open communication with our employee base. We were largely a virtual company operating across several times zones before the pandemic and had technology in place to operate seamlessly going into this crisis. The biggest challenge is communication with and among teams on a personal level. As colleagues, we are now consistently checking in with each other as work is just one aspect of our lives. As a business leader, I also worry about how to support people with managing the stress of a pandemic while staying productive and focused.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
As a company, we are having more frequent “All Hands” meetings as well as more frequent team meetings. We are focused on making personal connections. I am spending more time communicating with my team, as well as other teams, and talking to them on a personal level as well as about business. We also have an internal newsletter to keep colleagues updated.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
Many people, including myself, are working more during the crisis. I am sure this is partly because we don’t know what to do with the extra time and stress. I don’t think its sustainable but something we are falling into. My advice is to try and strive for balance by working what a normal day would have been to you before the pandemic. Try to stick to your work schedule as much as possible to also balance time for self-care and keep in touch with family and friends as you normally would. It may be more challenging with small children at home. The world changed drastically, so some routines and schedules will need to be re-adjusted accordingly, but try and set boundaries for your personal time.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. Physical fitness is really important and finding ways to move our bodies on a daily basis. For example, I like to go outside daily here in Nashville and hike and be involved in the beauty of nature. Nature is still here and the beauty is still here. I also try to focus on gratitude and that helps to get me out of that feeling of being “stuck”.
From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1.This pandemic has been energizing for many industries and companies. We can attach to the energy and make that work for us by innovating and changing the way we do business — that energy builds great businesses.
For example, pharma field reps couldn’t safely visit physicians in-person during the crisis. We quickly innovated to create a new product called TelaRep to help the life science industry connect with specialists who treat patients with chronic diseases.
2. The word “thrive” has been helpful for me and uplifting to others.
For example, instead of asking people if they are “just okay” or “surviving”, I now say, “I hope you are finding a way to thrive” when communicating during the crisis.
3. There is an opportunity for healthcare to make the industry even better and also help patients feel better.
For example, I focus on how I can help in my leadership role as well as how I can help the industry. At OptimizeRx we are helping to bring together healthcare leaders for webinars to discuss some of the most challenging issues our industry is facing and inspire change.
4. We can all let gratitude be our attitude.
Take some time out each day to focus on the good things in our lives and connect with our family and friends.
5. Set your own boundaries and trust that will be okay.
We need to take care of ourselves and our employees. People are willing to do whatever is takes right now but it is important to also take care of yourself. A company is an idea and way to organize around it, but you need the people to make it work. We can’t burn ourselves or our colleagues out.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Many of us have more time on our hands since our commute or work travel is no longer there. We get to make those choices of how that time is being spent and invested. Try to spend some of that time reaching out to different people you might not have reached out to normally. Ask someone “how are you?” or say, “I thought of you today”. Also, do something unexpectedly nice for someone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Weaknesses are strengths overplayed.” This saying has helped me in every aspect of my life. I am a self-critical person and I when I hear a criticism, I focus on the one negative among the many positives. We are all going to get feedback from the world in our lives, whether it is personal or professional. Don’t just focus on the weakness that you can work on, but also see the good of that weakness and something that you can be proud of.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you for all of these great insights!