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One-on-One with the Noblis Center's Alan Dowling

July 1, 2008
by root
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Alan Dowling says CIOs can get physicians onboard with healthcare IT — they just have to make the case.

The Noblis Center for Health Innovation is a nonprofit science, technology and strategy organization that helps clients solve complex systems, and process and infrastructure problems in ways that benefit the public. HCI Editor-in-Chief Anthony Guerra recently had a chance to talk with Alan Dowling, Executive Director of the Center, about the pertinent issues facing CIOs today.

AG: Why don’t we start with an overview of your work at Noblis, and let’s just keep in mind our core audience, which are CIOs of hospitals, mostly the larger facilities. Tell me a little bit about your work at the center as it relates to the CIO, concentrating on areaas they will find the most useful.

AD: Center for health innovation is the health industry focus group for Noblis. Noblis is a non-profit organization that is involved in advisory services and applied translational research. Our unit’s focus is on the health industry. Most of our attention is paid to the provider community, but not exclusively. Many of us who are in the center have previously lived and worked in telecare delivery organizations.

Early in life, I was the first US Air Force Medical Service Corp Officer that was assigned the responsibility of what today we would call a CIO in a healthcare delivery site. Noblis’ mission is to help improve healthcare and healthcare organizations’ ability to meet their mission.

We focus on several things, one of which is helping an organization formulate their direction and their successful future state as embodied and enterprise plans, service line plans, and other forms of business plans for the health entity.

Next, based on that successful future state, we make an effort to help them innovate and improve, focussing primarily on innovating their work processes and decision processes, so that they can achieve the potential success inherent in their strategies.

The next part of the plan is to help them implement new ways of working. Our intent is not only to develop strategy and make suggestions, but to work with an organization in order to engineer the benefits inherent in their strategy. This way they can focus on a multitude of processes, running all the way down through organizational design, change management, project management, and acquisition support. In doing so, we can help an organization achieve a higher level of success for itself, and help them to believe that people working in healthcare are de facto; which, by definition, means working to improve the national interests of the country. We find that working in healthcare to help organizations achieve success is completely congruent with our non-profit mission.

The other part of our plan is proliferated in our non-profit mission, which also has us involved in applied and translational research – areas that are of significant importance to healthcare. We like to combine our advisory services and applied and translational research – especially in a collaboration of research projects, of which we have a number of going on right now.

AG: Does your non-profit status mean that CIOs should look at you differently than they would a traditional consultancy? Do you think that allows you to bring more credibility to the table?

AD: It may. A number of us have been partners or CM partners in the country. For example, I used to be what's called a B partner in the firm Ernst & Young, when we had a healthcare consulting arm. In my most recent position I was the partner responsible for pulling together global healthcare consulting. So, many of us have deep experience in consultancies that are in the for-profit side, and we have brought this experience to a non-profit environment. But, what we’re doing here is bringing that expertise, and ability to exercise those roles as partners in major organizations, to a non-profit setting for a particular reason.

People who come to work here are heavily interested in outcomes for clients. Our focus on that, and working in a non-profit, means that our attention can be applied primarily to our clients, rather than to our shareholders or what our stock valuations will be the following day. We focus on creating partnerships that are going to create value for our shareholders and our partners. We are an organization that is independent and objective.

When I was E&Y, they were highly objective and highly dependent and highly ethical. So it doesn’t mean that you have to be a non-profit to have those attributes, but having been on both sides, I do know that often I am not encumbered in my decisions. I can simply act in the best interest of our clients. So it may make a difference in the margin. We do not form alliances with commercial entities for the sake of selling things, helping business furtherance, or by fronting products. We’re trying to be a true consultancy, with true objectivity. Ethics and independence are central to the way we do business.