Interview of Damian Kiska for Company's Interal Website - UXC Spotlight
by Chris Sweet

Interview by Sweet, Chris

Photos by Jin, Nini

March 10, 2015

With an extensive and diverse background in healthcare, Damian Kiska is a Product Manager who goes above and beyond to share what he has learned with others. Believing that the best experiences come from a foundation of effective communication and embracing a shared language, Kiska works tirelessly to ensure that our members, and even his peers, are able to do their jobs more efficiently. He genuinely expresses the spirit of generosity daily.

Chris: What’s your role at The Advisory Board Company?

I am a Product Manager with the EMR Integration Initiative, working on moving data to & from EHR systems for different Crimson products. I worked extensively with the Crimson Medical Referrals (CMR) team this year to establish Direct Messaging capability and using Continuity of Care Documents (CCD) to transfer a clinical snapshot of a patient’s care.

Currently I am working on adapting our implementation methodology to include better/sooner analysis of clinical data, and an incremental approach to implementing complex systems. This incremental methodology engages the member early, and as a full partner, in establishing quality measures reporting based on clinical data.

You have an eclectic professional background. Can you share the speed-dating version of the roles you have been in?

Let’s see… I originally started as an orderly (male nurse’s aide), a blood drawer, and a laboratory technician at the University of Michigan’s children and adult hospitals. My first full-time computer job was as a Research Assistant at a neonatal intensive care unit. I worked at the Michigan Peer Review Organization which did quality control and cost containment for Medicare when DRGs first came out in the mid 80’s. Then I was a co-founder of a company that built scheduling systems for surgical suites and home healthcare visits.

After that I worked at two different medical Natural Language Processing (NLP) companies – one of which was a spinoff from Mayo Clinic. Finally, I worked for a VHA contractor building a Health Risk Assessment tool for veterans. My roles included salesman, sales support engineer, implementation manager, trainer/training manager, interface engineer, consultant, product manager, special projects manager, and health informatics analyst.

Was there every anything else you wanted to be growing up?

My B.A. degree from the University of Michigan was in History, Political Science and Economics. I combined these disciplines to study the relationship between developing and industrialized countries. I was accepted into the Peace Corps, and was going to go off for a couple of years and come back and work on steering U.S. foreign policy to something more peaceful and effective.

I kept on getting put off by the Peace Corps however, and in the meantime I got a chance to be a research assistant in the neonatal intensive care unit at the University of Michigan Hospitals... it has turned into a challenging and interesting career in (mostly) healthcare computing.

Clearly being stagnant is not your style, but Health IT is not for the faint of heart. What inspires you to work in this complex space?

I taught myself how to manage and process data quality assurance in a pediatric pulmonary lab. The question I have asked throughout my career, is: “How are we doing? What is this data telling us?” All throughout my career I've been driven by the process of transforming data into information. If we have better command of our information than we have a better chance of serving the people who count on our healthcare systems more effectively. I will be proud and content if I can lend a hand in the process of building a better healthcare system.

In your tenure with here at The Advisory Board Company, what accomplishment do you take this most pride in?

Without a doubt it's being a contributing member of the team that achieved EHR modular certification for Medical Referral Source (MRS). We were able to effectively organize the efforts of a number of different groups include the EMR Integration Initiative, CMR/MRS, eTech, a new technology vendor (ICA), and finally the ONC certification contractor, ICSA. Organizing the work of these different people into a unified effort that accomplished the task at hand has been something for all of us to be proud of.

"I will be proud and content if I can lend a hand in the process of building a better healthcare system."

You seem to facilitate numerous "knowledge share sessions" that span a pretty broad set of topics. What motivates you to go above and beyond to train your colleagues?

I believe that internal training and information sharing is not only efficient, but kind. I have always been someone who needed to understand the context of my work, and how it fits in with the efforts of others. Aside from that, I enjoy training and have a lot of experience developing and delivering training programs. Being able to illuminate what is behind interoperability standards like HL7 and the Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture (C-CDA) helps people working with, and around, these technologies to be better informed and more effective. I believe it makes our team better.

What does 'user experience' mean to you and how do you apply it in your work?

I’ve always believed that the best user experience was the one that is molded to the workflow, approach, and language of the people who are going to use the system.

I used to build product configurations and would design the user experience based on the existing forms and business processes that were currently being used. When the user sees the software expressing some familiarity with the ways in which they work, they are more inclined to embrace the technology and learn how *this* system helps them to do their jobs more efficiently.

In what ways could UX designers/architects and Product Managers (PM) communicate more effectively?

Communication starts with meeting on common ground and speaking the same language... it is a shared endeavor to create a working system that will be embraced by users and help people to do their jobs more effectively. It's important that UX has a clear understanding of who is going to be using the system, the language they speak, and the kinds of things that are on their desk right now. That takes time and access to people who will use the system down the line.

On the other side, PMs need to receive an honest appraisal of what is needed, and make sure that is accounted for in the plan. If both UX and PM have provided for a realistic estimate of the design and development process, and keep each other informed on a regular basis, then the UX will become an open door for new users of the product to walk through.

You sent out photos from your recent vacation where you were waltzing across a field. Please, do explain…

One of the joys of my life is vintage ballroom dancing. Back in Michigan I was trained in a Victorian-era Viennese turning waltz and a Ragtime-era one step & tango. These dances are graceful and the music is just plain fun. Being on a vintage ballroom floor allows me a freedom and an exploration of skill and grace that I believe are some of the best parts of me. It can be a connection with someone that can reach beyond the present moment.

What book or books have you gifted the most and why?

One of my favorite book series is the Arthurian legend as told through the viewpoint of Merlin The Enchanter. The first book is “The Crystal Cave” which tells the story of how Merlin became a wizard in the first place. One of my proudest achievements is having read the entire four-book series aloud to a woman that was suffering from multiple sclerosis. One of the things I like about the story is that Merlin never considered Magic something that he summoned up, or commanded, but something that he could make himself available to, and would sometimes choose him as an instrument.

As a parting shot, can you share one of your favorite quotes?

"A folk musician and song writer: “Will the stories told when I am old remind us plain and clear … That courage has no meaning without fear. And the past is not a window – but a mirror.”

That's from John McCutcheon.

"I believe that internal training and information sharing is not only efficient, but kind... [it] helps people working with, and around, these technologies to be better informed and more effective."