MD Revolution CIO and Board Member, Jean Balgrosky, has a long history in remote care implementation, and has played a critical role in expanding technology systems in health centers across the United States. A powerhouse in her own right, Balgrosky recently secured her place on The Healthcare Technology Report’s Top 25 Women Leaders in Consumer Health Technology list.
We sat down with Jean to discuss some of her biggest accomplishments, her most rewarding career moments, and her experience as a woman in healthcare, tech, and leadership.
Q: Tell us a little about your educational and professional history, and how you came to be so involved in remote care systems.
A: I have had over a 30 year career in healthcare as a CIO, and this all originated from a love of data and education. My passion for these subjects led me to become certified professionally in medical record science in my early education at the School of Public Health at UCLA. Up to that point, the automation of healthcare was not all encompassing, and it was clear that computerizing the medical record would be the next phase of development. I prepared myself with a Masters degree that included an MPH, as well as a core curriculum from the MBA school, and education in computer science.
From there I went on to get my PHD; I was a single mom at that time, and my career really started to take off, so I left my dissertation on hold. I began working in health information systems, evaluating the goals and benefits of automating healthcare organizations. At 31, I became CIO for Holy Cross health systems, a network of 13 healthcare organizations across the country, and learned before there was a playbook of any kind, how to do the strategic planning for IT — the goal was to take into account characteristics of the patient population, the market, and the community in providing care, and to build an infrastructure based on hardware, tech, and data to connect providers and patients.
After over a decade at Holy Cross, I moved to Scripps Health, and the next 8 years there were spent writing and executing a strategic IT plan, and rebuilding all the systems from the ground up. The plan mirrored the needs of the community, and developed a portfolio of software, technology, data, and analytics, to realize a new vision for the organization. This was a time of great evolution for health-information technology, and patient-centric Electronic Health Record (EHR) was the centerpiece of that vision.
After my work at Scripps, I went back to UCLA to finish my PHD, and wrote a brand new dissertation — an analysis of the use and functionality of EHR in physician practices. I now teach at UCLA, helping to develop their curriculum in health-information technology.
Q: How did you get involved with MD Revolution?
A: My husband and I began seeking start-ups in the life-sciences and healthcare that were utilizing information technology as an enabling element, and Bootstrap Incubation enabled us to invest in and mentor these start-ups in early-stage innovation. I have always been driven to innovate health systems, and work to extend care beyond the four walls of a hospital — we knew we needed to be able to touch patients where they work and live. During this process, we came across MD Revolution and I became involved very quickly, first on the board and then as CIO — this was around 2013. My main initiative was to develop a care platform that could adapt to any chronic condition, integrated with EHRs, to remotely connect patients with providers, which ultimately became RevUp. I had done a great deal of work in implementing EHRs in healthcare organizations, but through MD Revolution, I was able to use these solutions to reach patients directly.
Q: What drives your passion for health-information technology?
A: The patients. I was originally drawn to a school of public health because I’ve always believed in holistic health education. At the end of the day, if you have your health, you have everything. It makes a big difference when a person has the knowledge and support to keep themselves healthy.
I have had many opportunities to work directly with patients, as a candy striper, an EKG tech, or even just volunteering to serve meals — there is something about being hands-on with patients, and helping them and their families during their most vulnerable moments, that lives in you. When I teach graduate students now, no matter what their goals may be, I always encourage them to find work that allows them to walk the floors of a hospital and work directly with patients. The empathy you gain is critical to our work. I have always been motivated by the clinicians and the patients, and have a strong drive to make life easier for them.
Q: How and why is technological innovation so central to the development of the healthcare landscape?
A: Technology allows us to communicate across a horizontal plane, connecting people beyond any physical barriers. There are so many centers of excellence in healthcare — wonderful hospitals, great providers, clinics — but they don’t all have access to the same patient data. The secure sharing of patient data grants providers visibility to a patient’s entire history, which is essential to providing a holistic care experience. With everyone having a personal technology infrastructure nowadays (ie. smartphone, tablet, or laptop), this also covers patient data that happens at home.
Technology also gives us more visibility into what is working and what’s not. Analytics have always been a key concept in healthcare, and we have always been able to learn from patient data to improve outcomes. Beyond that, data can be harvested for many secondary uses, like research, policy, public health, epidemics, etc. Nowadays, data is being used for artificial intelligence and machine learning, so we can predict, with a high degree of confidence, risk of health conditions, medical events, falls and so much more. That’s why patient engagement is so important — because patient-supplied data helps paint a more complete picture, allowing providers to administer more timely care.
Q: Both healthcare and tech are male dominated industries — can you speak to your experience not only as a woman in healthcare and tech, but as a woman in leadership in these industries?
A: I’ve always believed that a person should have the opportunity to exercise all their interests, motivations, and earn a living with equal opportunity. Thirty years ago, there were even fewer women in these industries than there are now, but I’ve always been driven by my interests. I’ve always just been myself. When I was interviewing at Scripps my dad told me, “Just be who you are, because pretending to be someone else is exhausting,” and I’ve always hung on to that.
I’m a big believer in education, and getting my Masters at the UCLA School of Public Health taught me so much about healthcare, management, and tech, and all this information has been so valuable to my career. I got my Masters while being a single mom, and so much of what I have learned is from the people there.
Diversity in the workplace is so important. Regardless of your gender or background, everybody brings a different perspective, which is especially important in healthcare.
Q: What does it mean to have secured a place on The Healthcare Technology Report’s Top 25 Women Leaders in Consumer Health Technology list?
A: I’m very honored and very appreciative. It’s quite daunting, frankly, seeing the awardees from last year and this year, and thinking, ‘wow, these are some very accomplished people.’ I’m always just pressing forward, being me. I really appreciate it, mostly because I hope this recognition will give me more opportunities to share what I have learned along the way. I would like to pass the baton and have others carry this work forward in their own ways. That’s one of the reasons I love to teach.
I’m just amazed and appreciative and want to say thank you to whoever made the decision.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Just that I have a lot of respect for the young people; they already understand some of the things it took my generation a long time to figure out. They have a head start not only intellectually, but socially, in terms of how they understand people and the world. Young people are very wise in a lot of ways, and while there are a lot of problems in this world we need to work on, I have a great deal of faith in the youth.