Saturday, July 28, 2012

It’s Business and Personal: The Value of Peer Relationships

Yesterday I attended the Business Clubs America (BCA) Philadelphia breakfast with special guest speaker Kyle Maynard -- world-class athlete, New York Times best seller, Wounded Warrior volunteer and, recently, the first quadruple amputee to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro unassisted.  Kyle shared with us his extraordinary story of never letting being born without arms or legs get in the way of what he’s wanted to do.  This is someone who truly leads by example; his grit, determination and personal strength are inspirational.
Kyle told us there are no worthy excuses, and that no matter how challenging an obstacle may seem, everyone has the ability to overcome it. Words to live by – personally as well as professionally, especially for companies hard hit by the economy these last few years. Decline in sales, rise in competitors and increased costs are issues many business leaders face. For the health care industry in particular, change has been continuous. But as  we learned from Kyle, it doesn’t matter what the complication is, it’s how you deal with it.
One of Kyle’s main messages was that very few things happen in life without a period of time, some delay, where we can process the meaning of what just happened. He calls this the source of our power. For example, after Kyle’s birth, doctors whisked him away before his parents could see him. They were given time to process this situation, which ultimately has shaped his deeply positive outlook on life. By creating a separation of time and physical space, we gain perspective, just as Kyle’s parents did.
I’ve utilized the delay strategy when confronted with a big decision that I know will have a large, lasting impact by reaching out to peers who have “been there” at one time or another.  That’s why my membership in BCA has been such a blessing for me.
BCA is a community of business leaders who truly want to help each other succeed. At the core of its mission is relationship marketing. The organization is strategically designed to help top executives develop the relationships integral to growing and maintaining a business. As Keith Baldwin, president of Spikes’ Trophies and BCA member says, “You cannot microwave a relationship.”  It’s not about finding a new audience to sell to or consult only when challenges arise, but about connecting with people living in your professional shoes -- – helping each other and leading with generosity. My BCA colleagues provide me with a source of inspiration, a sounding board and role models to follow.
The BCA mission of connecting with fellow business leaders to foster a community of mutual advice and mentoring translates to all industries, especially health care. As I’ve mentioned many times before, the key to improving health care is strong relationships. We’re all on the same team – the patient’s team, and we’re all in it for the same outcome – better health of those we care for.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Soak Up The Sun...Carefully

The Delaware Valley was scorching again this week as we, like most everyone across the county, suffered through another summer heat wave. In addition to an increased number of walkers out in the very early morning, one thing I’ve noticed as the heat index continued to rise, is a larger number of people with sunburn…myself included.

There I was, enjoying my family vacation at the beach with my SPF 50 sunscreen, hat and sheer long sleeves; wanted to make sure I soaked up the sun very carefully. But what I didn’t realize was that an antibiotic I had taken made me more sensitive to the sun’s rays and I ended up with a nasty case of sun poisoning. Since July is Ultraviolet Safety Month, I thought this would be a good time to turn the blog over to my good friend, Dr. Philip Benditt, medical director of UnitedHealthcare of Pennsylvania, for some simple steps we can all take to safely soak up the sun while summer’s in full swing.

Dr. Benditt writes:

“Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 1 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year - more than breast, lung, colon and prostate cancers combined.

The two most common types of skin cancer—basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas—are highly curable. However, melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous. While risk factors vary with each type of cancer, most cases of skin cancer are caused by prolonged and unprotected exposure to the sun’s UV rays. So if you’re planning on spending time out in the sun, be sure to pack sunscreen – and remember to re-apply after extended sun exposure, swimming or perspiring.

Here are a few additional tips to help keep your skin protected this summer:

• Stay in the shade as much as possible, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most damaging.

• Don’t tan, either in the sun or on a tanning bed. If you insist on having that sun-kissed  glow, ask your doctor about safe self-tanners.

• Don’t rely on the sun for your daily allowance of vitamin D. The vast majority of the population gets sufficient amounts of it from a normal diet combined with only accidental exposure to the sun.

• Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses that block UV rays. Consider wearing long- sleeved shirts and pants, especially if you have highly sensitive skin or have had a skin cancer.

• Be sure your sunscreen is broad-spectrum or provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays.

• Read directions and warnings on all medications you take. Some drugs, such as antibiotics, can increase your sensitivity to the sun and make it more likely that your skin  will burn.

• Pay close attention to any changes in your skin, including texture, marks or moles. And  get yearly dermatological checkups. The earlier the treatment, the better the chance of full recovery from any form of skin cancer.

Whether you’re outside for five minutes or five hours, it is important to always protect your skin. Exposure to the sun’s rays can be damaging any time of the year. And don’t forget, everyone is at risk for skin damage - regardless of age, skin color or skin texture - and needs protection from the sun.”

Enjoy your weekend, have fun with your families and be sure to take Dr. Benditt’s words to heart…be sun smart!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Positive Change Trumps Financial Rewards

United Health Foundation released new research that, to be honest, was somewhat surprising. While we typically hear about money and power being the number one motivator for minority youth – complete with “bling, bling” and “baggy pants” - the study showed that minority students pursuing health careers are far more motivated by a desire to serve their community than by potential financial rewards.

When asked what is the single most important motivation, 46 percent of minority scholars cited having a positive impact on people’s lives as their top reason for pursuing a health career. Only 17 percent cited salary or income. But while money is not a primary motivation for these students, it is a primary source of stress and discouragement. Of those polled, 98 percent said financial hurdles are a significant barrier to achieving their education and career goals.

The research, conducted by APCO Insight and funded by United Health Foundation, polled about 500 minority students pursuing health careers. More than 60 percent of respondents said there are not enough minority health professionals. One in four said they had never been treated by a health professional of the same or similar racial or ethnic background as themselves. Nearly 90 percent said they are interested in working to serve a community with the same or similar racial or ethnic background as themselves.

To help remove some of the financial barriers many minority students face, United Health Foundation, through its partner organizations such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the United Negro College Fund and the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, awarded $1.2 million in scholarships to 200 students in 2012 alone. Why such a huge investment? “We know patients do best when they are treated by people who understand their language and culture,” said Kate Rubin, president, United Health Foundation. “United Health Foundation is grateful for the opportunity to help support these outstanding students who are demonstrating impressive purpose and passion and who will help lead the way to better health access and outcomes.”

I’m proud to give a big shout out to the five Diverse Scholars from Pennsylvania:

Hector Colon-Rivera of Pittsburgh - in his first year of his psychiatry rotations at the Boston University Medical Center. He earned his undergraduate degrees from the University of Puerto Rico in economics and biology and earned a Doctor of Medicine from Ponce School of Medicine and Health Science. Participating in community support programs motivated him to pursue a career in a health-related field to treat physical and mental illnesses in underserved populations.

Milan Davis of Elkins Park is currently a freshman at Hampton University, where he intends to earn a bachelor of science in nursing. His goal is to work in a hospital or possibly have his own office as a nurse practitioner.

Alicia Henriquez of Philadelphia earned her bachelor of science at the University of Central Florida and is currently a third year medical student at Temple University School of Medicine. She grew up being conscious of the many health and social problems faced by impoverished populations due to the lack of resources and chose a career in health care to address those issues.

Rochanne Johnson of Bala Cynwyd is a first-year student at Temple University and hopes to work with the Department of Public Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Diego Motta of Scranton earned his bachelor of science in biomedical engineering from Syracuse University and is currently a second year medical student enrolled at The Commonwealth Medical College. He plans to pursue a career in either dermatology or a sub-specialty of internal medicine and work with underserved populations like the ones he grew up in.

By investing in these talented, committed and determined young people, we are ensuring that the future of healthcare is on the correct course. So thank you and congratulations Hector, Milan, Alicia, Rochanne and Diego for being the change we need in this industry. While we work to improve things from the top down, this new generation of inspired health care providers is destined to change it from the ground up.

For more information about the research and the Diverse Scholars Initiative, visit

Friday, July 6, 2012

Getting Healthy, One Step at a Time

Like most of you probably did, I celebrated America’s birthday by spending some much needed time with family and friends. A day in the middle of the work week to recharge and reconnect isn’t such a bad idea!

One of my favorite things to do is walk, alone. But since we were all together I decided to invite my husband and sons to walk with me. To my surprise, not only were we pounding the pavement, we were also pounding out the problem of the day. Conversation flowed easily, solutions were simple and the family bonding was a welcome side effect to putting one foot in front of the other.

As we were approaching a mile, I observed something pretty spectacular: while it may be difficult going that extra distance when I’m walking alone or on the treadmill, somehow logging extra steps isn’t so hard when I’m in good company. Then I began to think about how cool it would be to get my UnitedHealthcare team walking with me.

At UnitedHealthcare, this is something we understand – getting healthy is much more manageable, and enjoyable, when we can do it together – or against each other! The trick is finding the time, the right tool and the right level of engagement. So using pedometers, powered by the OptumizeMe fitness-challenge mobile app, I challenged my team to keep track of how many days they walked or ran between now and Labor Day. We’re calling it “Our Best Foot Forward Challenge.” The top movers will be entered into a random drawing to win a grand prize (yet-to be-determined).

I’ve blogged about UnitedHealthcare’s commitment to making health care easier and more accessible for its plan participants by creating apps for physicians and individuals. The OptumizeMe app is a great collaboration tool that helps motivate people by making physical activity a social experience. It allows employers to set up challenges for employees at all levels of health and fitness, increasing employee engagement in a culture of health and building loyalty--both to the employer and to employee health goals. We’re excited to offer such innovative technology to our employees to help make their lives better.

According to an article in the July 2007 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, healthy (and not so healthy) behavior actually spreads through social connections. Exercise does not have to be a chore or a solitary run or walk around the block. If we all encourage each other, staying fit can be a fun part of our everyday lives.

If you want more information about OptumizeMe, visit If you’d like to join my team challenge, download the app, grab your walking shoes and put your best foot forward!

UnitedHealthcare employees are putting their "Best Foot Foward"

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Health Reform? We’re on it.

Last week was an historic week.  Whether people agreed or disagreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act, the nation noted that the way we go about the business of health care is about to change. But health care modernization did not begin -- and must not end -- with the Court’s decision.

With the goal of creating a more pro-patient approach to health care, everyone along the health care continuum must share information, simplify processes and provide affordable health care coverage options so consumers can access health services in a more thoughtful way as each works to live a healthier life. To that end, UnitedHealthcare is building partnerships to bring education and treatment options to the broadest audiences possible -- in the most convenient and cost-effective ways.

Case in point: diabetes. With the disease growing at an alarming rate in this country some experts have even named us the “Diabetic States of America.” Nearly 26 million, or 11.3 percent of U.S. citizens over the age of 20 are diabetic - 35 percent are prediabetic, meaning that glucose levels are high enough to be causing health problems, which, if left untreated, can lead to Type 2 diabetes. By 2020, the numbers are estimated to grow to 15 percent with diabetes and 37 percent prediabetic. By 2050, one in three U.S. adults will likely have Type 2 diabetes.

And those aren’t the only scary numbers. It costs about $3,700 a year on average to treat prediabetes. If the condition ultimately progresses to advanced diabetes, those costs jump to more than $20,000. So, for a 10,000 life employer, about 40 percent of its total medical spend is a result of direct and indirect costs related to these two conditions.

Here’s where the partnerships come in. On the national level we’ve partnered with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the YMCA and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to bring the Diabetes Prevention Program to local communities. The national Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) study led by NIH and supported by the CDC reduced the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. On the local level we have partnered with YMCA branches across the county and Comcast corporation in Philadelphia and Tennessee to launch diabetes prevention programs to help individuals prevent or eliminate the onset of diabetes – whether a UnitedHealthcare customer or not.

Diabetes is a weighty adversary but with continued teamwork and creativity, I know we can do this together!

Visit Unitedhealthcare’s website for more resources on diabetes.

Deneen Vojta, M.D. (center), senior vice president, UnitedHealth Group and chief clinical officer, Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance served as a panelist at the launch of the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program held at Philadelphia City Hall on June 29, 2012. Joining her are (L-R):  Dr. Donald Schwarz, health commissioner and Philadelphia deputy mayor for health opportunity; Ali Gorman,R.N., 6ABC health reporter; Vojta; Aimee Smith, senior program specialist,YMCA of Philadelphia & Vicinity; Heather Hodge, manager, YMCA of the USA; and Kris Ernst, program consultant, Centers for Disease Control.