Profiling healthcare IT’s up-and-coming female leaders: Leaning in with Courtney Larned

By Kelcie Chambers on March 31st, 2016

As one of Sheryl Sandberg’s biggest fans, I’ve personally been interested in how women are leading in workplaces across the country. Lately, I’ve been fascinated with the careers of women in healthcare technology after seeing studies—like this one from Rock Health—demonstrating that women continue to be missing from boardrooms and executive teams in healthcare organizations, despite the fact that they make up the majority of the healthcare workforce.

Having worked alongside many female leaders that are leaning in in healthcare—taking on executive roles in major health systems, vendor organizations and publications—has inspired me to start this ongoing column profiling the careers and communications goals of the rising female leaders in the healthcare space.

I recently sat down with an up-and-comer in healthcare marketing: Courtney Larned, vice president of marketing and corporate communications at CareSync, a chronic care management company that’s seen explosive growth after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a new care coordination code last year. Larned’s been integral to taking several healthcare businesses to the next stages of funding (CareSync included, as it recently completed an $18 million Series B round), and shared insight on her career path, close-knit team, communications goals and children.

1. Dodge: Tell us about your career path: How’d you first land in marketing in the healthcare space? Did you have any mentors helping you along the way?

Larned: I always knew that I wanted to be in marketing, but never would have guessed that it’d be in healthcare. With a couple years of technology marketing under my belt a few years back, I went to work for an event company that helped to host TEPR – or “toward an electronic patient record.” TEPR introduced me to Travis Bond, CareSync’s founder and CEO who at the time was launching and assembling his team to debut the industry’s first cloud-based electronic medical record. He hired me as a marketing manager for Bond Technologies at TEPR 2004—in an elevator! I did what any eager 24-year-old would do and took the opportunity for a new adventure. Little did I know, the elevator chit chat would introduce me to mentors and colleagues—female and male alike—that I’ve been working with for more than a decade. Our close-knit, supportive group is one of the reasons we’ve grown and transitioned a few businesses from start-up to sale so quickly. It’s also been integral to my personal career growth.

2. Dodge: How has your career evolved since then—especially as your family grew?

Larned: A few years after I joined Bond Technologies, I felt like everything was transitioning for me. We’d taken the company through a series of acquisitions and around the same time, I gave birth to my son, Benjamin. I decided it was right for me to scale back on work, and I made the difficult decision to stay at home with Ben. However, I’d always intended to go back to work in technology once he was in school, so I did a few hours a week of consulting work to avoid any gaps on my resume and ensure I could quickly transition back into the workforce.

As Ben was gearing up to start preschool, I simultaneously was anxious to get back into marketing full-time to continue growing my career. Travis called me up to tell me about his latest venture and ask if I’d be open to getting our gang back together. Seeing there was a market need, we wanted to build a secure, information-sharing platform with APIs for developers to build apps on, which evolved into a care coordination platform to help people manage complicated care.

The rest is history: Lots of hard work, smart people, really great products and services that were ready when the market needed them to be and a bit of luck.

3. Dodge: As a marketing leader, what are the essential elements needed for building a team and communications strategy as market demand for your company's services increases? What advice do you have for your peers in the same situation?

Larned: I’ve learned that when companies are growing fast, keeping up the momentum just comes down to recruiting the right people, testing your ideas and campaigns, improving them when they work, adapting them when they don’t.

Culture is a big deal, too. You can’t force it, even when you have an idea of what you want it to be. The key is hiring the right people to ensure it grows organically—and that takes outlining and reinforcing your company’s values and mission before even starting to look at resumes.

The tipping point for us has been establishing and fostering a family-friendly culture at CareSync. In fact, there were at least five or six kids playing at the office on Good Friday! Not only is this beneficial for us from a work-life balance perspective, but it also helps us keep focused on why we started the business in the first place: to better our families. Keeping focused on this family-friendly philosophy is one of the big reasons I think we’ve been able to grow as much as we have, especially when recruiting new employees. I think that sense of purpose is important for a lot of executives in healthcare to keep in mind.

Finally, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned as a marketer (and a mom!) is to realize there are only 24 hours in a day even though the to-do list can seem miles long. I’ve learned I need to surround myself with the best resources to ensure that list gets tackled. As we prepped for Series B announcement, for example, I knew I didn’t have the time or resources to bring a whole internal team of people on board to help, so sought out an agency. I evaluated all of the different options— contractor, big agency, small agency, healthcare-specific. I started with a list of 20-something companies, and was able to get it down to ~8 - still in all the categories. Healthcare IT has its own language, which is why we ultimately asked Dodge to help!

4. Dodge: How have you seen healthcare change since you started your career?

Larned: I remember everyone declaring 2005 as the “the year of interoperability.” A decade later, here we are and the highlight of HIMSS was…wait for it…interoperability.

All jokes aside, we’ve come so far, even in the past four years. Value-based care is inevitable, so it’s been exciting to see initiatives that support physicians as they make the (huge) pivot. We’ve got a long way to go, but as long as there are innovators willing to do what they have to in order to move the needle, and everybody works together to solve the problems, we’ll get there.

5. Dodge: As a female leader the healthcare tech space, what advice would you impart to women who want to become executives in our industry one day?

Larned: I think that the success I’ve had so far really is a combination of hard work, truly believing in what I’m working on and most importantly, working with a team of like-minded people who want to solve the same problems in healthcare.

It’s not easy—at all. I feel like I’ve aged 10 years in the past four, and have sacrificed a lot to help get our company where we are today. But, hearing stories daily from doctors and patients on the successes they’ve had makes it all completely worth it. I recently heard about one woman with a chronic condition who didn’t want to go back into the hospital, so she avoided calling her doctor. Our nurses were able to find this out on a monthly catch up call and match her with a home health service so that her condition was properly managed and she wasn’t readmitted. It’s stories like these that make me excited to see what the next 10 years brings to the immediate and extended CareSync family.

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