Len’s Friends: Amy Stowers

Dr. Leonard Friedman, the director of the Master of Health Services Administration (MHSA) and online Executive Master of Health Administration (MHA@GW) programs offered through the Milken Institute School of Public Health, is an ardent believer in the idea that “health care is a relationship-based business.” “Len’s Friends” aims to showcase that concept by profiling some of Dr. Friedman’s closest personal and professional industry contacts — and by sharing their expert industry commentary and insights with you.

Amy Stowers is the founder and CEO of OptimizeIT Consulting, a full-service consulting and solutions firm based in San Diego, California. Stowers’ formidable industry experience — from critical care nurse to chief clinical information officer to chief information officer and finally, consultant — spans the clinical, administrative and consulting spheres. Ms. Stowers is an accomplished senior executive in information systems management and strategy. She has vast knowledge in strategic management of information systems functions, including design, development, systems selection, needs assessment, implementation and contract execution.

“I initially met Amy through my work with the American College of Healthcare Executives and theNational Capital Healthcare Executives chapter in her role as president of the chapter,” says Dr. Friedman. “I have come to know her as one of the most talented and capable health IT consultants I have ever met.”

How did you decide to pursue a career in health administration? And what drew you to consulting specifically?

Over the course of several years after graduating with my BSN, I became an expert in critical care and moved into administration. It was about seven years into my career that a very progressive chief nursing officer took me under her wing. She had a strategy to move the organization to a shared governance system, and she needed change agents who were ready to think and collaborate in a new way. I was handpicked by her to chair and co-chair a number of shared governance councils. My leadership style further evolved to include an internal desire to maximize everyone’s talents, develop strong teams and serve as a strategic change agent.

A move to consulting was right for many reasons. I was not reaching my career goals and fulfilling my internal passion to make a difference in a staff position. After working with an executive coach, the consultant path is what was decided as best for me. Thus, I launched OptimizeIT, and since then, I have been able to thrive on the challenges that a diverse scope of client engagements brings. Just think, I founded a firm on a value system that was my own and had to move out of many comfort zones. I like organized chaos and extreme challenges, so I thrive in situations or leadership roles that require a great deal of creative, critical thinking that results in transformed operations. It has been such a magnificent, inspiring journey.

I have worked for about 20 years in the health care IT area, after graduating with a Master of Science in Nursing Informatics degree. My health care administration and technology portfolio of positions has been extensive. I now have added to it a specialization in telemedicine.

How do you prioritize tasks when you’re faced with a stressful situation?

My ability to prioritize tasks effectively in stressful situations is both learned and an innate determination. I seem to have the ability to filter out the noise — or the information that is not needed at a particular time. This quality comes in handy when working on teams that must collaborate to accomplish complex, integrated activities for an effective outcome. Practice also helps. One of my favorite books is “Peak Performers: The New Heroes of American Business” by Charles Garfield. Garfield does an excellent job of describing common characteristics of high achievers. He states that peak performers sort things out and take not just action but purposeful action in the service of results. This I also apply to problem solving in stressful situations.

At a strategic level, my approach to effectively working through stressful situations is to be forthcoming and trustworthy. I lay the foundation by telling people up front what I will be doing, how I will be doing it and what is expected of them, and then I do it. I encourage everyone to be part of the solution, and I truly explore everyone’s strengths and capabilities. My goal is to maximize everyone’s contribution.

I like organized chaos and extreme challenges, so I thrive in situations or leadership roles that require a great deal of creative, critical thinking that results in transformed operations. It has been such a magnificent, inspiring journey.

In most professional situations, I serve as a catalyst for change and am hired to evaluate the organizational culture, and then execute a plan for moving the organization toward new goals. This can be stressful for people within organizations.

In the book “Good to Great,” Jim Collins makes two critical points that I use religiously in my work. One is the importance of getting people to confront the situation as it is today. Collins states that we must “maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of our current reality.” Sometimes we tend to look at things with rose-colored glasses or we do not fully disclose. Confronting the brutal facts is so important. Using this at the beginning of my engagements sets the stage for openness and transformation. It tells individuals, “Your organization is good; now let’s get it to great.”

Another point that Collins makes is that leading does not mean coming up with all the answers and then motivating everyone else to follow your messianic vision. It means having the humility to grasp the fact that you do not yet understand enough to have all of the answers, and then ask the questions that will lead to the best possible insights. I use this all of the time; it helps people understand that while we are going to confront the brutul facts, I will listen first, and they can be, if they choose, part of the solution.

But make no mistake, in my work I leave no stone unturned when it comes to accomplishing the needed goals and objectives.

What are some of the most pressing challenges and opportunities for professionals who are moving into those fields? What would you recommend for prospective health administration professionals?

The most pressing challenges and opportunities are, frankly, the vast change that is ongoing. I would encourage aspiring health care leaders to use the talent around them. There’s so much hidden talent in our organizations because of silos, because of politics, because of territorialism and because people don’t understand how to articulate their skill set and passions. As they build relationships and help those around them, they too learn and grow. We must be lifelong learners.

I encourage health care IT professionals to be open-minded and not get trapped in a position where there aren’t opportunities for growth. Work on multidisciplinary projects and be very comfortable with change. Today, more than ever before, no job is guaranteed. People are watching what you do and listening to what you say, so be careful and be certain to always remain credible. Your brand and your values should never be compromised.

I encourage health care IT professionals to be open-minded and not get trapped in a position where there aren’t opportunities for growth. Work on multidisciplinary projects and be very comfortable with change. Today, more than ever before, no job is guaranteed.

I would encourage prospective health care professionals to network like they have never networked before. This is something that I started too late. We are so busy in our jobs, but there is a whole world out there of talented, positive, smart individuals that will help us reach our dreams.

You recently helped us define the term “population health.” Your definition included the assertion that “every human as a member of the global population deserves the right to foundational elements necessary to be healthy.” Can you elaborate on what you mean by “foundational elements” and how our health care system can better prioritize those?

I am a health care IT champion. I believe IT is part of the solution to fix the U.S. health care system. Yet, as I developed a definition of population health, I thought about all of the effort and dollars being spent on “population health” and predictive analytics. What came to my mind is: How does this matter if we cannot provide the basic foundational elements of health? We are missing the boat on the psychosocial foundational elements needed to lead a healthy lifestyle.

I was raised in West Virginia, in an extremely rural area that has significant poverty, smoking and other contributing factors that lead to poor health. It is discouraging, and yet I am hopeful that with a renewed focus on wellness, this population will reap the benefits of being healthy.

Perhaps it is time to take a breath and ask, “What are the problems we really need to solve, and in what order?”

Have you seen any cases in which a community has effectively harnessed their resources to improve community health as opposed to investing those resources in hospitals or health care systems designed to take care of people who are already sick?

In my most current position I work with amazing people, the best and brightest, to implement state-of-the-art telehealth programs. As I began this role, my initial task was to conduct a comprehensive civilian telemedicine assessment. During the assessment process, I found several states and organizations that have implemented exemplary telehealth programs. These programs are having a significant, positive impact on individuals, communities and populations. Telehealth has great potential to improve the wellness and health care in underserved areas.

Telehealth is certainly going to be a catalyst for true population health, provided we confront the brutal facts of our existing situation and listen, listen, listen. Let’s be sure to close the loop, be transparent and provide scrutiny without bias.

Meet more of Len’s Friends.