By Heather Seftel-Kirk, FedHealthIT Contributing Author

Earlier this year, FedHealthIT announced its Top 100. Nominated and chosen by peers, these individuals have been recognized for driving change and advancement, for their willingness to challenge conventional wisdom, and for giving back to the larger Federal Health IT and Consulting community.

This week we spoke with Doug Burke, President and Cofounder of Cognitive Medical Systems, Inc. about the sustainability of healthcare, being better than Google, and taking risks.

The healthcare ecosystem

Burke says it is important to give back, both within and outside of professional associations. Beyond his work in healthcare for instance, he is a Director with Outdoor Outreach, an organization he has been involved with for more than a decade that provides experiences for underprivileged and at risk youth. “Giving back within our communities, and within our industry means moving away from just focusing on our individual successes and focuses. We become engrossed in these micro circles that revolve around our own jobs and careers and lives, instead of remembering that we’re part of a larger ecosystem.”

He says those working to make change, to create efficiencies, and to improve services must combine passion and patience because “change moves slowly.”

Within his own company, there is a concerted effort to hire people with passion, and to ensure that the company is involved with as many initiatives as possible to help drive change, and forge the connections and conversations that will be necessary to advance the overall mission.

Burke and Cognitive are involved, for instance, with Health Level Seven International (HL7), where staff sit on committees, author standards, and help develop reference material. “We are an advocate of HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management System) and hope to get more involved there. We work with Congress, Senators and their staff to advocate for change, and to continue to look at ways to make Government procurement more efficient.”

Better than Google

As part of being part of advancing change, Burke is building a team whose foundation is employee ownership and open communication. He says he believes open standards and protocols that enable the industry to better work together and communicate more effectively are key, and so establishing the same principles within his own team makes sense. “The only way we can enable clinical staff and patients to make better decisions is to ensure they have the information they need. The only way I can be sure my staff will make the right decisions, is to ensure they have the information they need.”

If we aren’t part of all the little conversations, if we don’t touch it all in some way, we won’t have the same impact.
He also believes his staff should be as engaged as he, and the company as a whole, are. Though he says his team is hyper-focused, and that they say no to a lot more volunteer and engagement opportunities than they say yes to, focusing on their mission means being involved with all conversations that impact that, at every step of the process. “If we aren’t part of all the little conversations, if we don’t touch it all in some way, we won’t have the same impact.”

Growing and maintaining the company, from the perspective of quality staff, takes creativity and commitment. Burke says to attract and retain quality people takes ensuring a fulfilling career path, quality of life, and the opportunity to take part in a larger mission. “At the heart of it, we are a software development company. That means we have to compete with Google and companies like that more creatively. Our way is offering employees the chance to make a bigger contribution in the world.”

Scratch your itch

Burke has had many passions in his career, from working with youth to his current company, Cognitive, and its mission, to the start-up economy in the U.S. where he has mentored others and enabled them to pursue their own passions. “What I tell entrepreneurs is that they will learn more about business by just doing it. That same lesson applies to us all – Just go and do it.”

He says whatever drives you, whatever makes you crazy, whether you are inspired by something or frustrated by something, the key is just to do it. “A lot of people will complain but few are willing to put in what is needed. We need to take risks. We need to structure our businesses and efforts at changing what drives us crazy about the way things are done. If you are frustrated by something, get involved, figure out how to make it better, and then go fix it.”

Driving healthcare advancement is an understanding that the work of healthcare is part of making a difference in the bigger scope of things. “Every day I work in the field, I’m surprised by how far behind the U.S. is. The path we are on is not sustainable but collectively, we can work to improve it.”



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