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20 Years of HCI

January 29, 2010
by Vince Ciotti
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Looking back at the evolution of a publication and a ‘garage start-up’ that changed the healthcare IT industry.

Two industry leaders made the headlines 20 years ago in the first issue of “Healthcare Informatics.”

Editorial: Bill Childs chronicles the HIS-story of this publication in particular, and of HIS magazines in general:

  • Computers in Healthcare - In 1980, Childs left Technicon Data Systems (acquired many times, eventually becoming part of Eclipsys) to start this magazine, the first to specifically target the HIS industry. After six successful years, Childs sold it to the Cardiff Publishing Company, and then founded:

  • Healthcare Computing and Communications - Formed by Childs in 1986, which competed with Cardiff. The name was a mouthful but the magazine competed well, and after a few years, Childs changed the name to:

  • U.S. Healthcare - Childs graciously gave credit for this moniker to his good friend and marketing maven: Art Randall of McAuto. Although short and sweet, the name ran afoul of the copyright of an HMO in Blue Bell, Pa., so Childs had to change the name again, this time to:

  • Healthcare Informatics - The perfect name to describe the content, and it has stuck for the past 20 years.

HBO News: Walt Huff announced his retirement as Chairman of the Board of HBO (Huff, Barrington and Owens), a major player in the HIS industry in 1990. Few people know the saga of Huff and HBO, so here's a capsule version:

  • OSF - Huff built a pioneering shared system for the Third Order Regular of St. Francis (OSF), a multi-hospital system in Peoria, Ill. Shortly after the advent of Medicare in 1965, Huff designed a system to automate the complicated 1453, 1483 and 1554 bills that Medicare mandated. He hired a consultant named Chuck Barlow to advise on the commercial feasibility of selling the system to other hospitals besides OSF, and when Barlow wrote a glowing report, the airplane company hired him to head up the venture, known as the “Health Services Division” (HSD) of their computer division, McAuto.

  • HFC - Chuck hired Huff away from OSF to be the chief techie at HSD, and they named his shared system Hospital Financial Control (HFC), which proceeded to sell like proverbial hot cakes. Ever the futurist, Huff soon got involved in a new technical project at HSD:

  • HDC - Hospital Data Control was the name of a pioneering turnkey mini-system McAuto was developing in the early '70s using minicomputers to build an affordable order entry system to compete with Lockheed's “MIS” running on costly mainframes.

  • MedPro - Huff quit HSD in a huff (sorry…), along with Bruce Barrington and David Owens, which is where the initials HBO came from. They bought a Four Phase, installed it in the garage of Huff 's home in St. Louis, and proceeded to program the Four Phase Data 4/40 with only 40K bits of memory (yes, that's a K as in thousand, not meg or gig!) for ADT and order entry, spitting out charges to shared systems like HFC. They later upgraded to a Model 4/70 (with 70K of memory!), and proceeded to sell the system called MedPro to hospitals on McAuto or SMS.

  • ACTIon - So successful was HBO in selling MedPro that Harvey Wilson struck a deal garnering SMS the rights to market it themselves under the acronym of All Communications Transmitted Immediately, or ACTIon for short. It didn't take we wise guys in King of Prussia long to come up with “or never” for the meaning of the last two letters!

HBO proceeded to grow exponentially, riding the turnkey mini-wave, and making its three founders wealthy men. So for Huff to finally retire a second time was indeed big news in 1990. Wonder if he ever dreamed his garage start-up would grow to be the number one HIS vendor, and gross over $3 billion today under McKesson's ownership?

Vince Ciotti is founder and principal at HIS Professionals, LLC. His blog can be found at Healthcare Informatics 2010 February;27(2):64