Q&A with our team | Meet the Men of MEERQAT

meet vitas anderson and phil cohen

In 2014, a team that combines creative, technical, innovative, and strategic talents joined forces to create MEERQAT. This combination of technological know-how, client management, research, clinical expertise, strategic planning and project management skills created an online tool based on a novel approach to enable structured conversations within teams. Over time, this tool has helped many organisations to evaluate their programs and processes and identify improvement opportunities.

We are proud to introduce the men in our team. Find out about the people who make MEERQAT a great quality improvement tool for your organisation.

Meet Vitas Anderson, Vice-President of Software Development at MEERQAT

Meet our team. A picture of Vitas Anderson, Vice President of Software Development at MEERQAT
Meet Vitas Anderson, Vice-President of Software Development at MEERQAT

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in Melbourne, Australia, which has always been home. I have three sons, Marlon, Sean and Luke, who are now grown up and making their own way through life.

In my professional life, I am an engineer and biophysicist with extensive experience in the research and management of safe human exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) for both low frequency (ELF) powerline fields and radiofrequency (RF) and microwave exposures.

In my personal life, I have always had an interest in the graphic arts. My biggest hobby is photography. I can play the guitar, though not terribly well, which I would like to rectify one day. I speak a little French, Lithuanian and German, but these all need some serious work too.

I enjoy reading fiction, mostly sci-fi and fantasy and, more recently, the crime fiction that Donna has introduced me to. I also like to browse the papers and keep up with current affairs. I also read general interest articles that you see, for instance, in the Pocket app.

Though I’ve always lived in Melbourne, I do love to travel and experience different cultures. Fortunately, my professional work has allowed me to do this, and I have many good friends overseas.

I like to keep fit as I aim to stay in good shape until I am 90! I used to play basketball and tennis, but these days I get my exercise through the gym, fitness classes, walks, runs and bike rides. I also like socialising at dinner parties (a habit I picked up from my parents). Moreover, I am the happy recipient of Donna’s great home cooking.

MEERQAT was set up in 2014…what did you do before MEERQAT?

I undertook all my undergraduate studies at the University of Melbourne, where I was initially enrolled in the medical faculty. However, after completing nearly three years of that degree, I realised that being a medical doctor was not for me. I preferred life in more analytical and creative pursuits. So, I switched course to mechanical engineering, which I completed in 1985. Funnily enough, although my medical and engineering studies were quite different in scope, I have nonetheless managed to apply everything that I learnt over my seven years of undergraduate study, which has been rather satisfying for me. I have always enjoyed the opportunity to apply knowledge in creative ways to challenging problems.

“After 3 years in the medical faculty, I realised that being a medical doctor was not for me.”

After graduating from the University of Melbourne, I had some trainee engineering positions in mechanical services for the telecommunications and the chemical manufacturing industry. In 1989, I gained an opportunity to work at the Telecom Research Laboratories (TRL). This was one of the country’s largest labs. I was inducted into a specialist group that studied the biological and health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields, particularly in the RF spectrum. It was here that I really began to draw on both my medical and engineering expertise. Eventually, I led a research team that was well respected in Australia and around the world.

Meet our team. This is Vitas Anderson, Vice President of Software Development at MEERQAT
Vitas demonstrates MEERQAT to a potential client

Looking back on it now, I realise that my time at TRL was a formative experience for me. It also gave me a great opportunity to really develop my research abilities in a supportive and creative environment. It was a progressive and collegiate place where I gained proper respect for all my work colleagues’ talents and opinions, no matter their position.

During my time at TRL:
  • I completed a doctoral degree in biophysics from Swinburne University of Technology.
  • I published the world-first estimates of the absorption of RF radiation into a person’s head using a mobile phone.
  • I also had to complete my PhD as a part-time student over seven years due to work and family commitments, during which time my younger two sons were born.

My research projects in EMF bioeffects and safety have spanned a wide range of topic areas. This includes experimental and numerical RF and ELF dosimetry, the development of EMF survey techniques, neurophysiological human experiments, in vitro studies, examination of theoretical bioeffect mechanisms and testing of EMF hypersensitivity. But my work also entailed many non-technical activities. Some were liaising with corporate affairs and legal staff, developing training programs and addressing community information meetings. Moreover, I did media interviews and negotiated on standards committees. I certainly feel like I have had quite a lot of variety and diverse challenges in my working life!

In 2001, I left TRL to strike out on my own as a consultant. I was inquisitive to see what it was like to work for myself. Over the following years, I have worked as both an external and internal consultant in EMF safety. I also held a couple of academic posts as an Associate Professor at both Swinburne and RMIT universities.

I am currently an Honorary Principal Fellow with the University of Wollongong. I have received public research grants in my career and have been commissioned to conduct specific EMF safety research projects for several governments and industry organisations. I have published extensively in the scientific literature with 28 peer-reviewed papers and numerous technical reports.

Also, I have actively participated in national and international standards committees for RF safety and exposure assessment, including Standards Australia, ARPANSA, the IEEE and IEC. I also serve as an honorary technical assessor for the Australian National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) regarding the accreditation of agencies conducting measured and calculated EMF exposure assessments.

How did you get from what you were doing before to online quality improvement tools?

Being trained as a researcher has given me a natural desire to achieve quality outcomes, as quality is always an aid to finding the truth. I have also gained a lot of practical experience establishing quality systems while serving on national and international standards committees and helping organisations set up effective EMF exposure assessment teams.

“I have a natural desire to achieve quality outcomes, as quality is always an aid to finding the truth.”

My specific engagement with MEERQAT began right when I built the first MEER tool in Excel to help Donna on a pilot project for the Victorian Department of Health. This project aimed to test the implementation of a new quality framework for Best Practice Clinical Learning Environments (BPCLE) at eleven health services in Victoria. Donna had the brilliant idea of repurposing the program logic maps that she used to develop the BPCLE indicators as a way for health services to self-assess their compliance with the BPCLE Framework. Ideally, she wanted the maps to be interactive so that health teams’ responses could be instantly recorded and displayed. I had previously developed interactive apps using the powerful VBA programming language in Excel. I was happy to develop the first version of our BPCLEtool, which we later transformed into an online web app.

Vitas, Phil and Donna during MEERQAT’s launch at AES2015

What’s your main role in MEERQAT?

My official role at MEERQAT is Vice-President of Software Development. This entails liaising with the web developers who maintain the MEERQAT apps, as well as overseeing the running of our MEERQAT marketing web site.

I’m also involved in the production of all multimedia material for our site and marketing. I am the team statistician and data analyst for the various research projects that the MEERQAT team has undertaken.

Tell us about the highs and lows of your journey at MEERQAT.

Our biggest challenge has been the same one nearly all start-ups face: bootstrapping a new company with limited resources. So, as well as taking on various roles for MEERQAT, I still retain my consulting work in EMF safety to cover daily living expenses. This takes up time and distracts from the many challenging problems that all start-ups must deal with.

On the other hand, my favourite activities at MEERQAT generally revolve around the creative and technical parts of my contributions, such as creating training and marketing videos, analysis of MEERQAT data and web app development.

My most satisfying and proudest moment in MEERQAT was when we completed our highly successful clinical research trial of MEER/MEERQAT at the Epworth hospital in Richmond. It was thrilling to see the trial’s great results (a 34% drop in adverse events in the trial units) and to publish the results in the prestigious BMJ Open Quality medical journal.

Overall, it has been fascinating to experience the development of a new tech start-up right from the very start. I feel that we are tantalisingly close to really scaling up our company.

Apart from the personal feeling of reward from developing a successful company, I would dearly love to see MEERQAT used across all service industries. I genuinely believe it has so much to offer in making organisations happier and more productive places.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

Without a doubt, my co-founder and life partner Donna Cohen has been my greatest source of inspiration. Donna brings enormous positive energy and direction to MEERQAT and a can-do attitude that keeps us all motivated.

Meet Phil Cohen, Vice-President of Business Development at MEERQAT

Meet Phil Cohen, Vice-President of Business Development at MEERQAT
Meet Phil Cohen, Vice-President of Business Development at MEERQAT

Tell us a bit about yourself.

As the Bruce Springsteen song goes, I was born in the USA! I lived there until I emigrated with my parents to Australia in 1972; I became a naturalised Australian citizen in 1982. After high school in Sydney, I studied Sociology at the Australian National University in Canberra, completing a Masters in 1989. I worked in Canberra for several years before moving to Melbourne in 1996, where I have lived ever since.

I married my beautiful wife Annie in 1998 and have two grown children. Sam (20 years old and studying International Relations) and Charlotte (18 years old and just started a marketing degree). We are all huge sports fanatics and love basketball, tennis, Australian football, golf and football (I am a long-suffering Tottenham Hotspurs fan!). I play basketball three times a week to keep fit and an occasional game of golf and tennis.

We are also big fans of comedy and enjoy going to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in April every year.

MEERQAT was set up in 2014…what did you do before MEERQAT?

I have had a long and varied career working for different organisations in planning and research (Australian Sports Drug Agency, Cancer Council of Victoria), health care quality improvement (Victorian Department of Health), quality health purchasing (Transport Accident Commission), client relationship management (Victorian Managed Insurance Authority) and other related fields.

I have been a consultant and contractor for the last 12 years. I have undertaken a wide array of projects in evaluation, research, business planning and project management for government agencies (Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, Department of Health), hospitals (Mercy Health, Austin Health), insurers (QBE) and community health (Banyule Community Health).

How did you get from what you were doing before to online quality improvement tools?

I started working on the Best Practice Clinical Learning Environment (BPCLE) initiative with Donna in 2010. Part of this work involved the development of the online tool that is now known as BPCLEtool. Seeing the success of this tool, it was apparent that developing easy-to-use, intuitive online tools is the way of the future for quality improvement.

“Developing easy-to-use online tools is the way of the future for quality improvement.”

What’s your main role in MEERQAT?

My official title is Vice-President of Business Development, but I wear a few hats that include business development, marketing, sales and client relationship management.

Tell us about the highs and lows of your journey at MEERQAT.

I would say the biggest challenge has been learning the intricacies and nuances of client acquisition. No client is the same, and getting clients to use MEERQAT is quite a complex process. I think we naively thought at the outset that once we had produced MEERQAT and people saw how good it is, it would be a simple case of “we must have that”. Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t quite work that way!

Phil Cohen wins Best Dressed award at AES18
Phil wins Best Dressed award at the AES18 Annual Dinner

I really enjoy the creative sessions in which the MEERQAT team develops new ideas and solutions to our different challenges. I also really enjoy being at conferences when we display MEERQAT and observe the incredibly positive response we get when people see our products for the first time. And, of course, everyone loves the name!

There have been a few really satisfying moments, although to call them “moments” doesn’t do them justice. Probably the best was when the results from our trial at Epworth Hospital demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in adverse events of 34% – this was clear evidence of what an amazing impact MEERQAT can have in health care in terms of sustainable quality improvement.

“I’m also finding it quite exciting to discover the new ways in which MEERQAT can be used by our clients and the positive outcomes clients get from using our tools.”

Overall, I’d say I’m motivated by doing interesting projects that will hopefully improve the way things are done within organisations. I genuinely believe there is a wealth of knowledge and experience in the frontline workforce of organisations that is going largely untapped at present. MEERQAT provides the mechanism through which this vast knowledge and experience can be unlocked and utilised for quality improvement.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My biggest inspiration is my family. I have a large extended family now through my own and my wife’s family, and their love and support provide me with daily inspiration to work and be a force for good in this world.

We hope you enjoyed this Q&A to meet members of our team. In our next blog, we’ll introduce Donna and Annie, the Women of MEERQAT.

Tell us your impressions of Vitas’s and Phil’s stories. If you have a start-up, what have been the biggest challenges you have faced?

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