Hospitals and physician practices strive to provide the highest quality of patient care in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment. By ensuring healthcare providers have access to other clinicians and information they need when they need it, Irene Froehlich, Chief Communications Officer at DrFirst, is uniquely positioned to help them deliver.
In an interview with Irene Froehlich and Insights Success, we learn about Irene’s journey as a leader in healthcare and discover how DrFirst closes the gaps between information and people so that all sectors in healthcare can create better outcomes together. Below are the highlights of the interview:
Please take us through your journey of becoming a skilled business leader.
When I started my career, my mentor told me to always be on the lookout for opportunities to solve real problems. He also told me to look for the strengths in people, not to focus on their weaknesses. And lastly, to give people the benefit of the doubt, not to assume malicious intent. Those three principles have been instrumental in helping me over the last 21 years working at DrFirst. My responsibilities have spanned sales, account management, talent acquisition, corporate culture, marketing, and public relations. Through the years, my teams have executed a wide variety of initiatives that have helped bring in top-notch staff, shape the company’s culture, develop strategies, and established DrFirst’s brand and reputation.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.
Steve Jobs had a saying, “A players hire A players, but B players hire C players, and C players hire D players. The trickledown effect causes bozo explosions in companies.” When it comes to building successful teams, I am a firm believer in bringing in talented people who are better than yourself in their individual areas of expertise and empowering them to be proactive, creative, and take personal responsibility for achieving results.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to be able to identify problems, but many leaders stop there. Good leaders must be prepared to roll up their sleeves and help solve problems. Your team respects you more when you are willing to be part of shouldering the burden, and you are focused on finding solutions. Doing so also gives you real world perspective that helps when you look at the bigger picture and make critical decisions. One thing to note, you won’t always make the right call, but you have to have confidence in owning your choices. Be honest when you’re wrong, learn from your mistakes, and be real with your team. They will be more willing to take chances, to admit fault, and grow when they see that it’s OK to “fail fast.” At DrFirst, we try to convey to our teams that if you have a difficult choice to make, you will always be supported in your decision if what you’re doing is morally and ethically right and is in the best interest of our customers.
Lastly, when you work in a company as innovative and entrepreneurial as DrFirst, you often find yourself operating at breakneck speed. Everyone is passionate, driven, and smart, and sometimes in that type of environment lots of plates are spinning at the same time. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, slighted, and overlooked if you allow yourself to have that perspective. But, if you give people the benefit of the doubt and assume the best in others, you’ll find that we are often aligned in goals, and there’s no reason for hurt feelings or animosity. Approaching others with that mindset allows you not to be defensive and inquire from a place of seeking to understand rather than to accuse. If something feels out of place or uncomfortable, don’t fall into the trap of the “Fundamental Attribution Error,” thinking the other person has a bad attitude or is intentionally malicious or trying to hurt you or cause frustration. The more insight and empathy I have, the more trust and goodwill I can have, allowing for a swifter resolution of issues or difficulties.
How do you cope with fast-changing technological trends to boost your personal growth?
Being better today than yesterday is an important part of the DrFirst culture. Being a wife, mom, and career woman, I am always looking for ways to grow personally and professionally. There are only so many hours in a day, and I try not to waste it doing things that are meaningless. For example, I don’t watch TV or read fictional books because they prevent me from investing time into my family, my community, or learning.
Very early in my career, when I was right out of college, I read that the world’s most successful business people read three developmental books every month. So, I set a personal goal to do that. When I was younger, I read these books the way that the average person reads. Most people read every page word for word, but the strategy for fitting in so many books a month is to start by reading a summary of the book to understand the most important salient takeaways. Then you skim or speed read through the whole book and ask yourself whether you need a deeper dive into the material. If so, then you read it again from cover to cover. If not, then move on to the next book.
One of the ways I use technology is to passively learn while I’m doing other things. These days, my free time is limited, so I subscribe to a book service that provides book ratings and summaries. I also have switched to listening to Audible books. This allows me to fit in a workout for my brain and my body, or close my eyes and relax after a long day. Typically, I will speed up the pace of the reader, and then stop and go back when it’s something interesting I want to listen to more closely.
As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career? And how did you overcome it?
The most significant barrier I faced early in my career had more to do with my age and maturity than being a woman. I have always been one of the youngest managers at DrFirst, and in my youth I had a bit of an attitude and a tendency toward demanding things be done rather than reaching agreement through persuasion and collaboration. I assumed people weren’t taking my ideas seriously because they thought I was young and inexperienced. Eventually, I learned that it’s far more powerful to ask questions and lead people to reach the same conclusion rather than telling them what to think. As they say, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” By asking thoughtful and learning questions, with a goal of seeking to understand, you have a greater chance to influence and let people own their ideas.
Despite what some might think, expressing vulnerability and asking for help, clarification, or input can be a sign of strength and confidence, not weakness. The right questions are signals of trust — and they can inspire people to trust you in return. For example, rather than telling your team about a new opportunity you’ve identified, ask them, “Do you see a game-changing opportunity that could create much more value than we’ve delivered in the past?” A big yet simple question like this can inspire a burst of collaboration and creativity across the organization. And if you consistently demonstrate a question-first mindset, you’ll help establish an overall culture of curiosity and learning that will keep your team innovating and responding to challenges effectively.
I’ll also admit that I had a fiery temper in my youth —and it certainly didn’t win me any support with the leadership team. I’ve learned that when you start getting upset, people get defensive and stop listening, and after a few burns, trust is lost and is hard to regain. So I’m very intentional about trying to understand other people’s perspectives, why decisions are made, what the backstory is, monitoring my tone, slowing down my speech, and presenting my thoughts calmly. Sometimes I fail, and I ask my teams to hold me accountable so that I can be aware of opportunities to be better.
How do you balance work and life responsibilities?
I think it’s especially easy for women to fall into the trap of trying to be perfect (the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect friend, the perfect employee) and feeling guilty when they fall short. I used to feel guilty about being hyper-focused on work rather than being a good cook or spending time cleaning my house. Guilt about these things is a useless emotion that can get in the way of personal and professional growth. I learned to embrace that I can choose the things I want to excel at and find ways to compensate for things I don’t enjoy doing. For example, I hired a housekeeper because, frankly, it’s cheaper than marriage counseling, and I’d rather spend my time outside of work relaxing and having quality time with my friends and family. I also have my groceries delivered because I’d rather spend $99 a year to have delivery than have to spend my time searching for things at the store. I’m fortunate to have a husband who partners with me to run the house and a daughter who is responsible and also manages her own chores.
Where are you focusing your energy right now?
Last year, I led a rebranding for DrFirst as part of our 20th anniversary, including coining a new word: the TM Healthiverse , representing all the stakeholders in the interconnected healthcare universe. Today, I’m focused on our efforts to “Unite the Healthiverse” with new technology products that give healthcare providers and organizations the information they need when they need it, so they can provide the best possible patient care. This is more important now than ever as every corner of the healthcare industry is immersed in meeting the many challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
We are introducing new products and services, including SM our Healthiverse Enterprise Suite that allows clients to achieve better outcomes through the power of synergy than with separate, stand-alone solutions. One example is iPrescribeTM , a free prescription app, which replaces the doctor’s paper prescription pad. Another is Backline Telehealth, which allows healthcare staff to securely communicate with each other, the EMS team, and patients. We also have products for pharmacists, pharmaceutical companies, payers, and patients. It’s a galaxy of information that we are pulling together to create efficiencies and better patient care.
Of course, the hardships of the pandemic have also affected our staff. They are inspired to be able to make an impact on the heroes on the frontlines and have shown tremendous energy and commitment to DrFirst and our clients. We are focused on helping DrFirst find new ways to keep our talented staff engaged and in sync, as so many of us are working at home and facing unique distractions and challenges, such as feelings of isolation, working from our living rooms, and helping children with virtual e-learning.
What advice would you give to the next generation of women leaders?
There was a time when I didn’t like the term “women leaders” because I felt that there shouldn’t be a designation. A leader was a leader. But the truth is that there are real barriers women face in the journey to leadership. It is important to share lessons learned with women to create a chain of successful women in leadership positions. My advice to women is to not dampen your ambition and to use your influence to build up and support equality in the workplace. Integrate your life experiences and leadership philosophies and use them as a guiding compass. Learn how to collaborate, empower others, and build real connections in both your personal and professional lives. Be driven by a higher purpose, not just collecting a paycheck or doing enough to get by. Have confidence in yourself, don’t second guess your decisions. And lastly, have a grateful heart. Thinking positively, looking for opportunities to be thankful, and counting your blessings gives you the mental fortitude and the right attitude to be strong for yourself, your family, and your team.
For the last 21 years, DrFirst has taken bold steps to disrupt healthcare with innovation. It has been my privilege to be part of this team—working together to make a difference in improving collaboration, make clinical information accessible, and “Uniting the Healthiverse.”