If you’re afraid of the dentist, be warned to walk into Ries Robinson’s office – you’re sure to come across his poster displaying dental pliers.
Why is he there?
It’s possible that Robinson’s assistant ‘checked the wrong box’ when ordering office artwork, but the man, who is an engineer, doctor and serial entrepreneur, likes it.
“It’s a great conversation starter,” Robinson says. “Stimulating innovation in a health care system is like pulling teeth.
He should know.
Formerly chief innovation officer (and now advisor) for Presbyterian Healthcare Services, Robinson is currently focusing on his latest venture, Graphite Health.
The Albuquerque company, which Robinson founded last year, is working to create a common digital language for medical information so healthcare companies can share patient records in a standardized way.
Information could be transferred instantly, rather than relying on a fax machine or “a kid with a scooter,” Robinson says. And it would be seamlessly integrated into the electronic patient record, rather than being “like a footnote on the back”.
Although Robinson likens healthcare innovation to “quicksand,” he says that “Graphite’s bold, hairy big goal…is absolutely solvable.” Members of his nonprofit society include Presbyterian, Kaiser Permanente and Intermountain Healthcare.
A self-proclaimed “Roswell boy” who once won a Lego competition, Robinson founded eight companies, resulting in more than 40 patent applications in the United States.
“I’ve had an interesting career in that I think I’ve really created all the jobs I’ve had,” he says. “I have never interviewed for a job. It’s a bit of a strange thing.
What do you hope to accomplish with Graphite?
“On a professional level, I hope this is my crowning achievement, because health care touches everyone. I don’t know about you, but I find health care excruciatingly inconvenient. You and I have been around long enough to remember that when you were traveling you had to call all the airlines, you had to go through the travel agent, you couldn’t get the information. Well, the reason was that there was no common communication. Each airline had its own reservation system. So at one point Expedia and other entities said, “Well, why don’t we create a common framework…?” And now you and I have the ability to access flight information rather than calling each (airline). Graphite’s goal is to say that we could dramatically improve the quality, cost and convenience of healthcare, if we spoke a common language. »
After earning two degrees in mechanical engineering, why did you decide to become a doctor?
“I am an engineer at heart. But I was very interested in everything related to medicine, but not in the care (aspect) of medicine. When I was in my second year (in medical school), I started working on noninvasive glucose monitoring at UNM. I got a grant to involve scientists from Sandia, and…there was probably no less than 500 papers written on it. So I decided there was an opportunity to use the resources of Sandia, coupled with college, and I recruited a group of really bright and capable colleagues from Stanford, and we formed a company called Rio Great Medical Technologies in Albuquerque. There have been five spinoffs. Everything I’ve done, in theory, is kind of a non-invasive measure in the medical space.
What do you do in your free time?
“Oh, I have a great life. I’m an avid outdoorsman. I always ride mountain bikes. I’m an avid skier. We have a house in Durango, so we paddleboard and kayak the river (San Juan or Animas).
Did you receive any advice that stood out to you?
“I have been incredibly fortunate, I would say for most of my 30 years, to have had four amazing mentors. Their code of conduct, both in business and personally, was exceptional, and I think that served of guide. Do the right thing. Conduct yourself in the right way. Conduct your business in the right way. There are many ways to conduct yourself that do not meet the highest standards, and I have never seen where they did that. And they’ve had incredible success in their personal and professional lives. I would say the other thing is that they came from all different walks of life, but all of them were remarkably curious. And I think that’s was something very important, to have this curiosity stimulated in me.
What made your success?
“I don’t know if I succeeded. I had a lot of fun and enjoyed what I’m doing. I think I work hard. And I find it so fun to work with people who are so much brighter than me, because it expands my world. In the process of running a business, there is a lot of day-to-day work. Just by tracking emails, you are wearing yourself out. We have a statement, at least in our house, that people get “Eeyore” as they get older. But what is it ? How can you be grumpy? I mean look outside. It’s a wonderful day.
Are you ever grumpy?
“I’m tired. I get grumpy, but not very often.
What keeps you sunny?
“Life is quite interesting. I like to work on stuff. I always have the aspiration to change the world with my life. So I think it’s kind of fun.