Professor Ernest Forman
Online Healthcare MBA Program
The George Washington University
Tell us about yourself and your role at the George Washington University.
My name’s Ernest Forman. I’m a Professor of decision sciences in the School of Business at George Washington University. My educational background started in engineering, electrical engineering at the University of Rochester. After that I went to Johns Hopkins and had a master’s degree in management science. And, following that, I got a Ph.D. or, actually, Doctor of Science in the School of Engineering at George Washington University.
What key research and / or publications are you currently working on?
Well, I’ve been teaching many years and doing research many years, mainly in the area of decision making, mainly with a process called the analytic hierarchy process. So I’ve had many publications, patents and software. Most recently though, I’m working on processes for improving risk measurement and risk management. So risk involves events that occur, and these events can have consequences. And so we need to assess the likelihood of these events as well as the consequences. And people aren’t very good at doing that. Not only do we assess them but we have to measure them in ways that are combinable, so that means we have to have what are called ratio scale measures. So there are ways with techniques to use judgment to assess the relative likelihood of things happening as well as the impact. Having both those, we can calculate the risks.
Subsequent to that, we then have to say what we can apply our resources to to reduce the likelihood of certain events, reduce the consequences of other events or the same events. And we have many things that we can devote our resources to, so what’s the best combination, what’s the best portfolio of actions to take in order to reduce risk.
What courses do you currently teach?
In the GW Healthcare program I teach the JUD course which stands for judgment, uncertainty and decisions, as well as the DAD course, data analysis and decisions. The JUD course deals with how we make decisions. There’s been a lot of recent research about how the brain works and how part of the brain, the amygdala deals with emotion and intuition. It’s very, very powerful and helps us make our decisions on a daily basis very effectively. But for really important decisions we need to use more reasoning, more rationality. And that’s a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is very, very tiny in terms of capability. And so here we are challenged with making important decisions, both life outcome decisions as well as business decisions, and we typically use our intuition but when we can’t really do that because the environment’s changed, a new challenge, the trade-offs are too important, we have to rely on our reasoning. And many people really don’t know how to go beyond the limitations of our reasoning part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex and that’s what we teach in this course.
Well, the courses I teach are very applicable to healthcare in a couple of ways. One is that decisions have to be made in healthcare, whether they are policy decisions or treatment decisions. And the other course deals mainly with statistics. And professionals are always being learning new information that has statistical backgrounds. And a lot of times they don’t understand what these results mean and they have difficulty interpreting them.
What makes the GW Healthcare MBA online program unique?
The GW Healthcare program is very well known, I believe. And I’ve been very impressed with the students. Most of them are professionals, either doctors who are trained in medical field … and they are looking for experiences to help in the business of medicine because, as we know today, unfortunately, business is so much a part of medicine.
One of the interesting things, I think, is that almost everybody is frustrated with the healthcare system today in the United States, both the physicians, as well as the patients. Nobody really understands it. And I think in our discussions we can talk about ways that we as individuals and as groups can have some impact. The economics of it, the insurance company involvement, the medical device companies, the hospitals themselves, the physicians, everybody feels frustrated about it and yet we can’t really seem to move in the right direction. And with the right approaches, breaking away from what we’ve done in the past, I think there is a bright future.
I came across a book recently; one of my students recommended it actually for a course, called The Rational Optimist. And the future actually is very, very bright, although many people have a dim view of it. And I think if we use our heads and reason in the right ways we can really change this healthcare system.
What surprised you the most about online learning?
Online learning environment was a big surprise to me. When I originally started teaching online I was pessimistic. The first course I taught was not in the Healthcare program but in our decision sciences. And I thought it wouldn’t work well but it turned out that there were aspects of it that were even better than the in-class experience. And so over the period of time we’ve adopted techniques that work better on-line with techniques that work better in class. And I think things are morphing. And more of our on-campus activities are becoming online and our online is becoming more face-to-face through virtual tools such as Elluminate Live and, hopefully, better tools than that even.
So the interaction with the students, which is I think key, is changing almost daily, and that’s the future. Teaching and learning are changing quite drastically now. There’s a way of flipping the learning experience where traditionally we would teach things in a classroom, the students would go home and read and do things. And the flip side of that is we can now present things for the students to learn on their own and then use classrooms or virtual meetings to discuss that. And that flipping actually seems to work well for many people and I think it enhances the learning experience.
How can this program help healthcare professionals be successful?
Today a healthcare professional has to deal as much with things outside of the healthcare environment as within. And a lot of that is business. And business technology is changing; technology is changing the way healthcare is delivered. There are a lot of opportunities. I think due to the restrictions of our current system with insurance and government and so on, a lot of these are not being administered as quickly as they could be. And I feel that our graduates could have some impact in making these technologies and new services available on a more widely effective basis.