20 Years of H.I.S.tory

September 24, 2008
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$1 million could buy quite a bit in 1988. Today, not so much.

Vince Ciotti

Vince Ciotti



This is our third column looking back at the HIS Industry 20 years ago in an effort to find lessons for today's CIOs. From the magazine annals of October 1988:

Ads: From the pages of “U.S. Healthcare” (predecessor to HCI):

UNISYS (formerly Univac) — warned in bold red headlines: “Nearly 50 percent of U.S. hospitals risk closing within the next five years.” Ironically, within a few years it was Unisys that closed its healthcare IT operations.

SAI (Systems Associates Inc.) — bragged about its “integrated information system” that dominated the small hospital (under 100 beds) market in the ’80s. SAI was later bought by American Express, sold to HBOC, and became the design for McKesson's “Paragon” system of today.

IHC's “HELP” — Intermountain Health Care (IHC) announced a partnership with 3M to develop and distribute the HELP patient care system that 3M had acquired from Control Data. Sound familiar? Just last year, GE announced a partnership with IHC to jointly develop and integrate its CareCast acute care EMR acquired from IDX. Such joint development efforts may actually be wise moves, as few vendors can afford the cost of hiring the dozens of MDs and RNs it takes to (re)build an EMR/CPOE. So we usually end up with products designed by analysts in cubicles that turn off most clinicians (“too many screens” and “who designed that?"). Hopefully, GE will fare better than 3M, whose HELP system sure needed some.

Back Alley Award — Terry Alley, chairman and CTO of Gerber Alley, was awarded the “Entrepreneur of the Year Award” by the state of Georgia. It probably helped that Gerber Alley was headquartered there, but its “turnkey mini” product was hot stuff: integrated, affordable, and running on solid DG “MV” minicomputers. The company's downfall was an attempt to convert to the more popular DEC line of VAX minis, which suffered the classic vendor “future” fate of slipping quarter by quarter, then year by year. IBAX (IBM and Baxter) gobbled them up shortly thereafter and it was eventually sunset by HBOC.

Contracts: Major deals announced 20 years ago:

McAuto — signed two hospitals for its “Healthcare Communication Service,” a package of professional (what else?) consulting on data communications, voice communications, and equipment room design. Surely a billion-dollar aerospace company like McDonnell-Douglas is a safe bet to “partner” with in such high-tech areas?

Tandem — announced a $1 million sale (very expensive in 1988) to Methodist Hospital in Minnesota for a “Non-Stop” mainframe that featured two of everything (CPU, Disk Drives, Tape Drives, etc.) needed for reliability with the “LastWord” patient care system. Guess what hardware CareCast is still offered on by GE today?

Ferranti — this Italian IT giant bought its way into the U.S. market with several leading products such as the “Leadership Series” minicomputer HIS and “Pentamation's” Long Term Care (LTC) system. It announced two hospital and 17 LTC contracts in October alone. Wonder if this trend of “hot” European firms buying up U.S. companies and showing them how to properly manage IT and make a handsome profit would continue? Ferranti sure didn't, although Keane acquired the LTC product and leads that market to this day. Then along came Caritor.

MSA — Management System Associates, headed by Skip Shippee, announced three hospital contracts in October of 1988. Skip had a deal with McAuto for a few years whereby his Microdata-based HIS (McAuto owned Microdata) was sold as the “Mini-based Hospital System” or MHS. The deal didn't work out, and several lawsuits later, Skip sold the company to the employees (an ESOP — Employee Stock Ownership Program, just like HMS in Nashville has), who renamed it A4 (All the data, all the time, etc.). A4 eventually sunset the HIS product, concentrated on ancillary software like ED, and just sold to Allscripts in 2008.

Healthcare Informatics 2008 October;25(10):64
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