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Women in Healthcare: Maureen Bisognano

In honor of last month’s Women’s History Month, Healthcare Finance News asked some of the women leaders in the nation’s healthcare industry to talk about the role of women in healthcare. Those conversations take us into April.

Today, we hear from Maureen Bisognano, president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), a Massachusetts-based not-for-profit organization. A veteran of the speaker circuit, Bisognano worked for 15 years as IHI’s executive vice president and chief operating officer before taking her current position when Donald Berwick left IHI for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In addition to her role at IHI, she is the co-author of the soon-to-be-released book, “Pursuing the Triple Aim: Seven Innovators Show the Way to Better Care, Better Health, and Better Costs,” and is an instructor in health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Q: What role do women have as decision-makers/leaders in today's healthcare sector?
A: I think they play a huge role from two perspectives. One is that in healthcare, most of the workforce is made up of women, so just by sheer numbers they are already highly engaged in making every kind of decision, day to day. Many of today’s women in healthcare – whether on the frontlines of care or in management – are also uniquely positioned to demonstrate, especially to new physicians and others coming into the health professions, that women have been change agents over the years and now, more than ever, are helping to chart and create the system of the future. I think it’s important that the healthcare workforce as a whole learns from growing numbers of female leaders because these leaders often understand problems and solutions in different ways and can serve as role models to the newest and youngest members of the workforce, whether male or female.

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My second answer is that the work women do in improving healthcare so often begins in the family. Women are very often the keys to the health of the family. In New Zealand, as an example, we work on family-centered care with an organization called Ko Awatea, which is focused on the health of the Maori population. In the Maori culture, in Ghana – where we work on child health – and in the United States, it’s the family that’s the principal unit of healthcare. And within this unit, the central figure is usually the mother or the grandmother. So I think women leaders in healthcare need to think about the assets we have in the community – which are so often the women in the community, and build on those assets.

Q: What do women bring to the table to shape the future of healthcare?
A: I think women bring an understanding of the all the assets that exist in the community. I think we see the strength in family relationships, as well as in community assets like social organizations and churches. Oftentimes when I’m in a conversation with a woman leader, they’re able to see outside the walls. Often, and this may be a stereotype, male leaders tend to see leadership inside the walls. Male leaders will look at technology and clinicians and the physical plant as assets. Many times what I experience is that women leaders will ask: Is there a community group we can pull in to help? Can we engage the office practices in the community? Can we go out into the community and pull those assets in to help solve the complex healthcare challenges we face today?

Q: What do you personally believe should be the path forward to better care and lower costs?
A: At IHI we believe that the path forward is what we call the Triple Aim. The IHI Triple Aim is a big aim and its three component parts require very sophisticated leadership. The first part is the improvement of the health of a population. The second part is improving the care system so that when a patient goes into a hospital or office practice, the care they get is safe, effective, efficient, equitable, timely and patient-centered. The third part of the Triple Aim is to drive down per capita costs. In most healthcare settings, somebody might own one piece of the Triple Aim, or maybe two, but it’s very rare to find a healthcare system that’s taking ownership of all three. I personally believe that for the health of our communities, for the health of our school systems and for the health of all our patients, we need to address all three of those challenges at the same time.

Follow HFN associate editor Stephanie Bouchard on Twitter @SBouchardHFN.