This article was originally posted to WBL.org
In December, 2020 Dr. Charu Raheja was highlighted as Women Business Leaders’ standout member. This nonprofit is “the premier network of female executives across the health care industry. Built on and inspired by genuine relationships between peers, WBL brings together women executives for honest discussions about the opportunities and challenges facing the industry. This peer network provides the platform through which members are able to move their companies forward, advance their careers, and make a true impact on the health care industry.”
This group took the time to ask Charu about her outlook on the industry and trends ahead. Below is her answers.
How did you become an executive in the healthcare industry? Did you always have an interest in health care?
My professional interest began in finance. I received a master’s and doctorate from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business. I taught MBA and Executive students at Vanderbilt University and Wake Forest University before switching to health care in response to a family tragedy.
While I was still at Vanderbilt, I observed that my husband and his partners worried about patient care when offices were closed and took turns taking patient calls. I wanted to help their practice and other doctors in Nashville. I co-founded TriageLogic in 2007 to meet a need for accurate and cost-effective nurse telephone triage software and service for hospitals and private practices.
When my father passed away from a massive heart attack in 2009 because he did not call a healthcare provider to evaluate his symptoms, our mission became that much more important to me. I could see, from first-hand experience, how providing remote health care that people could call to address their symptoms could save lives. I would say that my career evolution has been a very personal, passionate journey on my part. I hope to take the experiences that I have had and help the greater community.
COVID-19 put a huge spotlight on telehealth, and there is a lot of speculation surrounding the future of telehealth post-pandemic. Over the next few years, what do you predict will set a successful telehealth company apart from the rest? How are those predictions influencing your work at TriageLogic?
There are many players now in the field of telehealth and remote patient monitoring. As the pandemic has shown us, there’s tremendous value in these systems and services. It has created efficiencies and provided healthcare access to people who live in remote areas. It has also made health care accessible to people at times when brick and mortar offices are either closed or difficult to get to. As we look into the future, I see a couple of important investments that TriageLogic has been working on that I believe companies will need to acknowledge for continued success.
First, I believe that keeping up with technology and all the different ways to connect with people is going to be paramount. I think that successful telehealth companies will have to be flexible and invest in products that work seamlessly with existing systems. Second, several aspects of healthcare require a physician to follow up with the same patient over time; this is especially true in cases of chronic disease.
As we all know, continuity of care improves patient outcomes and decreases healthcare costs. I believe that a better integration of telehealth with a patient’s physician will help further improve patient care. Finally, it will be important to customize care based on the needs of individual communities and their location. We will keep on seeing more customization with remote patient monitoring as practices continue to invest in these technologies.
TriageLogic got involved in this area early and invested in technology to adapt to the changing needs in healthcare, most notably through the COVID-19 pandemic. My co-founder is a physician who ensures that our technology works to meet the needs of providers and their patients. We aim to keep developing our expertise as well as help educate other healthcare professionals on the best practices in remote patient care.
You’re a strong advocate of wellbeing in the workplace. How do you support wellness amongst your employees, and what impact has it had on company culture and productivity?
I think adaptability is crucial for success. I use that in how we run TriageLogic and in my personal life. On the work side, I think that we need to adapt to the needs of our employees. A company’s ability to adapt to the shifting needs of their people can create a win-win for both parties.
For example, there are many nurses who would like to work but cannot work the long shifts that are required in a medical setting; this could be because of family dynamics, personal preference, or even health issues. I considered the needs of working mothers when we first developed our company model. We allowed nurses to choose their shifts and allowed them to work remotely. We had to develop technology that would enable people to do that successfully. Most thought that this was impossible and expensive.
Today, most medical nurse call centers are moving towards remote nursing. We lead in this area of technology, and we see ourselves as pioneers in the remote company culture. Of course, with the onset of COVID-19, remote work became the gold standard. But we already had these systems in place. A work-life balance approach helped us develop a culture where people feel accountable and empowered to do their work.
You sit on the board of CHC (Creating Healthier Communities) as Finance Committee chair. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned during your time serving?
Recently, Creating Healthier Communities has been focusing on social determinants of health and the impact of COVID in different communities. As many of us in healthcare have seen that the socioeconomic position of people has greatly affected how they’ve fared during this pandemic. We have also seen that the issues in each community are different from one another and it is crucial to find solutions that are customized for them. Finally, we have found that along with increasing access to healthcare, there are several other related problems that need to be addressed including education and access to food.
As we look at the outcomes from the pandemic, we have seen several communities come together to donate and find creative solutions to address their local issues with health inequalities. For example, I visited the MetroHealth System in Cleveland, Ohio, earlier this year and was impressed with their high school education program. We are now helping individual communities evaluate their needs and help them work with local businesses and non-for-profits to find solutions for better health and eliminate health disparities.
What would you say to fellow members of WBL considering non-profit board service?
I think the most important question to ask is: what are you passionate about? When you serve on a non-profit board, you’re giving your time and effort to a cause. If that cause is something you really care about, then it propels you forward and helps ensure you put your all into the work. Not only do you help others, you also create a sense of fulfillment for yourself. So research what topics get you fired up and what’s close to your heart, then find a position that fits your expertise.
For some members looking for a for-profit board, I have found that a board of a not-for-profit that has a goal of overseeing the company can be beneficial. I have served in several committees at CHC and served as a chair of the audit as well as finance committee. In all these roles, I learned about the responsibilities and expectations of the position.
Personally or professionally, what might the WBL network be surprised to know about you?
I work on the inside of the healthcare industry helping address caller symptoms. But I too have been a patient and understand the other side of the industry. I had a stroke from an arteriovenous malformation (or AMV), but I ignored the symptoms and took days to seek care. When I finally contacted a medical professional, they were surprised about how long it took me to get care. I had brain surgery and it took me almost a year before I was able to work again. The WBL Annual Summit in 2015 was the first event that I attended as I tried to recover and come back. The support of the participants and the excitement I felt during the meeting helped me regain my energy to continue my work in healthcare.