Alan Dowling, PhD, Takes the Reigns
On Jan. 13, Alan F. Dowling, PhD, took over leadership of the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). In light of healthcare reform and stimulus money to implement electronic health records, the next few years are anticipated to be crucial ones for AHIMA’s membership.
Following a nationwide search Dowling was appointed to replace Linda Kloss as chief executive officer of the 55,000-member organization. Kloss announced her retirement last summer.
Introduced to the media by AHIMA Board President Vera Rulon, Dowling has health information technology experience spanning more than 35 years in corporate, nonprofit and academic arenas. Most recently, he served as executive director of the Center for Health Innovation for Noblis, Inc., a nonprofit science, technology and strategy organization.
Previously, he served as vice president of health consulting for Covansys; president of HealthMagic, Inc., a Web-based technology company; and as a partner in the health industry consulting arm of Ernst & Young, LLP. A colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Dowling served as a health services officer for more than 20 years.
Dowling is an adjunct professor of information systems at Case Western Reserve University and has lectured internationally on health information technology. He received his doctorate in Health Care Management and Management Information Systems in 1981 from the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his master’s in computer science from the University of Dayton. He also holds a master’s in engineering management from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in physics from Holy Cross.
In selecting Dowling, Rulon said, “We looked at the very critical juncture in the HIM profession. We considered this very unique confluence of circumstances and timing and determined that the next AHIMA chief executive had to be a proven leader with a wealth of experience, a broad mix of very specific skills, and above all … someone whom we felt confident would hit the ground running.”
She added that in this era of reform, the future of health information management is shifting faster and more severely than at any previous time in the profession’s history. “In the coming months and years, the board of directors believes our members will learn what we already know … Alan Dowling is the ideal leader at this historic time for the enormous job that lay ahead,” she concluded before turning to Dowling.
“Policy is being shaped right now that will determine who we are as professionals and what we do as a profession for perhaps the next 50 years or more,” he began.
As health reform continues to be tweaked, Dowling noted that no one has a definitive feel for what the final product will look like or how it will be implemented in real world situations. “What we do know, however, is that no matter the final shape, our reformed healthcare system will be built on a platform of health information technology and run by a growing health information management labor force,” he said.
Dowling stressed AHIMA would take a lead role in several key areas including serving as ICD-10 change agents, becoming standard-setters for information privacy and security and serving as an expert resource on meaningful use as set forth in the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act. He stressed the importance of taking a holistic approach to HIT.
“I’ve arrived here at a time that is unique not only for healthcare in the United States but also for AHIMA,” he said. “I’m excited to be here working among critical professionals at a time that is going to shape the future. Ours is a challenge and an opportunity so rare and so profound that I cannot imagine how anyone … our staff, our board, and especially our members … are not excited simply by the mere possibility of tomorrow.”
He added, “It’s a time when government and private sector … people and institutions … are coming together to discuss health information and health information technology to the point where I think we can make staggering progress.” However, he continued, with this comes “a staggering responsibility to get it right.”
One of his first steps in his new position, he said, was to become fully involved in the organization and supportive of its mission. Dowling said it is an important goal that information technology professionals be recognized for their unique expertise so they might be “well used” within their individual companies and organizations to create value.
With the increased visibility of HIT professionals comes concern about future demand for services. “We do see a shortfall in prepared health information managers in the country. One of the major things AHIMA can do … and is doing … is help people prepare for holistic understanding of health information management.” He added the organization’s training and continuing education programming is designed to help professionals become more meaningfully involved in health management.
Although, he noted, it is too early to discuss specific changes he might make to the organization, he said AHIMA is always evaluating the effectiveness and value of their programming.
“AHIMA is in a perfect position and its staff is perfectly prepared to look at the information environment in a larger sense,” Dowling concluded.