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20 Years of H.I.S.tory

September 1, 2008
by Vince Ciotti
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At the time, $7,000 seemed like a lot to exhibit at a trade show. Today, it covers shipping costs

Vince Ciotti

Vince Ciotti

This is the second installment of an ongoing column looking back at the HIS Industry 20 years ago, which we hope will allow today's CIOs to benefit from Santana's adage: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”


Several classic vendor names graced the September 1988 pages of “U.S. Healthcare” (predecessor to Healthcare Informatics):

PHS — (Professional Health Systems) touted its Data General mini-based “PatCom” system with a prestigious list of clients including Massachusetts General, Baylor, and Stanford. Amazingly, PatCom has had a renaissance this year as part of Keane's new “Optimum” system.

NCR — Sadly, almost all of the BUNCH group (Burroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data and Honeywell) did not survive their battle with IBM in the hardware arena, proving that superior marketing usually trumps better technology.

McAuto — trying to shake its identity as a purveyor of dated shared systems, this company advertised that it had over 500 installations of turnkey in-house systems. McAuto was later acquired by American Express, which now has zero installations of both.

HIMSS Precursor

Bill Childs, editor of U.S. Healthcare, editorialized about the annual AHA Convention, which was the big HIS annual event, pre-HIMSS. Bill lamented that he spent $7,000 for a booth and expenses, while netting only 129 new subscriptions. Due to these “high” exhibit costs, several leading HIS vendors were no-shows at the 1988 AHA convention, such as Gerber Alley, HBO & Company, SMS, and TDS. Add several zeros to the cost figures, and it sounds like the lament of today's HIS vendors like Cerner, who might not attend the HIMSS convention in Chicago next April.

Another article extolled the virtues of “ECHO” (Electronic Computing Health Oriented), IBM's user group. It's hard to realize today how dominant IBM was in the ’70s and ’80s, when it not only captured most hardware sales, but had a dominant impact in software as well with products like “PCS/ADS.” A small consulting company named “Superior” ran an ad offering to help hospitals customize their PCS/ADS.


Some major deals announced 20 years ago this month:

SMS signed 11-hospital Charter Medical in Georgia for its “Independence RCO” system, a precursor to today's Invison. Plans were to utilize an innovative satellite communication system to connect Charter to SMS' Malvern data center.

HMS from Nashville, Tenn., announced being selected to participate in IBM's “Marketing Assistance Program,” one of the few software providers to be selected. It ran on IBM's “powerful” System 38 (p-series today).

Baxter announced the sale of its “Omega” mainframe system to 1,000-bed Riverside Methodist Hospital in Ohio for $2 million. Omega survives today as part of McKesson's “HealthQuest” product line.

Unisys announced a big sale to Montgomery Hospital in Norristown, Pa. Another member of the BUNCH group, Unisys' Headquarters was right down the road in nearby Malvern. HIS Pros helped Montgomery displace that Unisys system in the late ’90s with SMS's Invision, also headquartered right down the road.

DataCare of Roanoke, Va., announced an IR (Industry Remarketing) agreement with IBM for their mainframe HIS that ran on either IBM's 370 or 937X mainframes. DataCare eventually lost out to giants like TDS in the clinical niche.

Healthcare Informatics 2008 September;25(9):64