The Future of Healthcare According to Dr. Joanne Conroy, M.D., CEO of Lahey Hospital & Medical Center
Paraphrasing notwithstanding, one cannot help but recall that “I Am Woman” paean to gender selfawareness by the great Helen Reddy. Certainly that is likely the reaction of most women—and men—on witnessing the public speaking vitality of Dr. Joanne Conroy, M.D., CEO of Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, MA. A veteran of both medical policy and practice from South Carolina, Washington, D.C. and almost all other significant points of the healthcare compass, she has found time to found and expand Women of Impact (www.WomenOfImpact.net), an advocacy consortium with one shared goal: to realign the health care system to meet the needs of all Americans, recognizing that the people who need care come from all walks of life. Bringing her deep and wide background together with outstanding women from all disciplines—including a three-star Admiral—she and they put forth with great clarity an agenda they have taken on tour nationwide and once a year at their own expense in the fulcrum of their continuing efforts, Washington.
Women of Impact focuses on these basic guidelines:
- Health care costs too much, and Americans aren’t getting what they pay for.
- People must have the ability to take charge of their wellness and health care and to exercise the power of choice.
- Health, not sickness, should be the focus of care.
- Innovation is vital.
- Health care should be available to everyone when they need it.
When we spoke with her recently, Dr. Conroy was preparing to give a talk via the prestigious and innovative TED Talks program, the international incubator for technology, engineering & design aimed at the impact of these realms of endeavor on all aspects of enhancing the quality of life on our planet. One dominant message from Women of Impact’s vision statement came across with eloquence: ‘people must have the ability to take charge of their wellness and health care and to exercise the power of choice.’
In relating just how Dr. Conroy had come to lead the formation of Women of Impact she made clear that it grew out of a longing to leverage her prior training and experience into a more purposeful direction. It’s the legacy she wanted to leave behind for her community and her family. At a Chicago healthcare conference she experienced a kind of mountain-climbers clarity of vista—that when one comes to know that legacy and its guiding direction, complementary situations present themselves. The heroic climber William H. Murray’s inspirational words came to mind:
‘Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred….’
And just as the accomplished mountaineer must have help, she sought to integrate this legacy’s directional guidance into an already busy public speaking tour. Soon she’d garnered a sizable grant from the RW Johnson Foundation. She and her group of dedicated women meet regularly to review their personal legacies as well as the overall goal of achieving healthcare improvement nationwide. These meetings are so impactful that many report significant unintended breakthroughs from improved marriages to weight loss.
After a year of such transformational work, Dr. Conroy returned to the provider arena as both anesthesiologist and policy advocate. But, in keeping with her legacy heritage the focus of Women of Impact had much to do with the cultivation of future female leadership in the healthcare space.
In outlining the personal impact on her as a spouse and a woman, she put forward four tenets of great consequence she’d experienced:
1) Greater accountability for her actions;
2) Authentic interactions with her spouse, she being the bread winner;
3) Renewed ‘oiling’ of integrity—the almost literal hinge of her everyday life (a heavy stainless steel reminder sitting upon her table, engraved with that message);
4) Greater appreciation that her purpose must be larger than herself.
Speaking of larger purpose, Dr. Conroy has a proud history of philanthropy, be it aimed at donation of significant salary percentages to a home for the elderly’s grant-finding sustainability in rural Maine or low interest lending to her many nieces and nephews in pursuit of graduate education.
Finally, her advice to younger women in similar professional decision-making has much to do with work/ life balance and child-bearing’s impact upon it—it will likely change their legacy’s direction, and should always be humanely data-driven.
Which brings us to the extant trend in any analytical realm today: big data, so-called. The humaninzing take Dr. Conroy brings to this otherwise rather sterile statistical tool in other realms of life is the benefit it may bring to making health and its care a truly more mutual proposition as to both cure and, most importantly, prevention of disease, literally. Her well-documented mantra is both clear and clarion call: timely information is everything in any sustainable affordable system of health (vs. disease) care. Patient empowerment—especially before becoming clinically-treated–is paramount in her ‘Cliff’s Notes’ shared with us for her TED Talk; shared knowledge, timely had, makes for practicable maximization of care decisions (given that those decisions are at least 1/3 driven by data). Dr. Conroy’s present and future legacy promises to make this more maternal aspect of shared informed decisions go a long way in providing the physical and intangible legacies of countless patients a brighter future—now that’s a legacy of legacies.
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In June 2014, Dr. Conroy joined Lahey Hospital & Medical Center as chief executive officer. Her primary responsibilities include enhancing Lahey Hospital & Medical Center’s operational infrastructure through clinical quality, service, financial and information systems, and facilities to support the overall objectives of Lahey Health. She will develop and drive an effective clinical integration strategy consistent with Lahey Health’s vision, expanding educational and research programs, and strengthening a culture of philanthropy.