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‘Father of Medical Informatics’ Dies at 100

October 7, 2014
by David Raths
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Kaiser’s Dr. Morris Collen was pioneer in large-scale population research
Morris Collen at home in 2013 Credit: Kaiser Permanente

Morris Collen, M.D., an original partner in the Permanente Medical Group, founder of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, and a pioneer in the use of computers in medicine, died on Sept. 27, 2014, at the age of 100. The cause of death was cancer, diagnosed several months after his 100th birthday.

Dr. Collen was a legend in healthcare informatics. In 1948, he became one of the seven founding physicians of the Permanente Medical Group. He is recognized for his pioneering work in applying computer technology to medicine. He was one of the first people to apply the technology of his generation to record patient data and to realize it could be applied to efforts to prevent disease. 
His work was the foundation for Kaiser Permanente's Division of Research.

Last year, Dr. Collen spoke with Healthcare Informatics following his 100th birthday. He said he was disappointed that more progress hasn’t been made to make systems interoperable. He gave CMS credit for putting so many millions of dollars toward encouraging implementation of EHRs. “I complement CMS for stimulating the EHR market, but I fault them for not requiring a uniform basis for interoperability when they had the chance," he said. "We are now paying the price for their failure to do so.”

In a Kaiser press release, Dr. Collen’s colleagues offered tributes. “Morrie had a very special combination of creativity, optimism, persistence and humility,” said Tracy Lieu, M.D., director of the Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente Northern California. “Even at age 100, he was an intellectual contributor and a powerful inspiration for our current generation of researchers and physicians. His ideas in medical informatics formed the foundation of how we use computers in health care and research today.”

“Morrie Collen was one of the most dedicated, visionary leaders this nation has ever known,” said Robert Pearl, M.D., executive director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group. “Fifty years ago he could see the power of technology, the importance of the Division of Research and the need for physician leadership in health care. His career in TPMG spanned seven decades, and his contributions will live on forever.”