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The Long Run

July 21, 2009
by Vince Ciotti
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A look back 20 years ago at “U.S. Healthcare” magazine (August, 1989):

In 1969, Cape Cod Hospital (CCH) elected to go with a fledgling computer company, Meditech Information Technology, which emerged from nearby Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Meditech's two founding employees - Neal Pappalardo and Larry Polimeno - sold their dictionary-based LIS with the proviso that CCH could “pull the plug” with 30 days notice if things went south. The system originally ran on a teletype machine over a dial-up phone line via an acoustic coupler, time-sharing on a DEC PDP-15 running MGH's Utility Multi-Programming System (MUMPS) at the Meditech facility in Cambridge. (Few people know Meditech started out as a generic programming company in the ′70s, writing software for phone directories, Sheraton hotels, and even the NYC prison system! CCH and other hospital early adopters led them to concentrate on healthcare.)

  • 1971 - CCH converted to Meditech's “MIIS,” the vendor's proprietary variant of MUMPS, and added four Infoton “Vistar” CRTs and two slaved character printers (UNIVAC DCT-500). It took a full minute to print a single patient summary report (about as long as the response time in some of today's under-configured systems!).

  • 1979 - CCH converted to another generation of the LIS and Meditech's new MIIS (Standard) operating system, which ran on a Data General Eclipse C330.

  • 1984 - CCH replaced its shared financial system with Meditech's complete MAGIC “HCIS” system running on five DG MV6000 minicomputers, with 300 devices and five gigabytes of storage. Plans were to move to DG's new RISC machines in the future (MV10000 series).

  • 2009 - Fast forward to today: CCH is still on Meditech, but has embarked on a system selection process to potentially replace it. Sad ending to an amazing saga, but, who knows, when the CCH visionaries see Meditech's new “Release 6,” with the new Focus language replacing Magic, they may yet stay in the fold.

An update on Meditech's executives: Neal Pappalardo is still there working every day, programming his heart out in Focus. Larry Polimeno is an extremely active COO, while Howard Messing (a relative Johnny-come-lately, vintage 1972) is president. The company has shown amazing longevity in the C-suite compared to some of today's vendors. Unlike HIT vendor executives with a cult-like status, Neal shuns the spotlight. Last year was a tough year for Meditech's investments (just like mine), which usually contribute large sums to their corporate earnings. In an incredible display of honor all too rare in the corporate world, Neal voluntarily passed on his (sizeable) 2009 bonus check, taking personal responsibility for the shortfall in investment income. Are you listening, Wall Street? Neal, you're my hero!

Featured Ad: GTE bragged in a full-page ad about its executive team spending 30,000 hours searching for an HIS to acquire, before settling on MedSeries4, which was acquired from Intermountain Healthcare in October of 1988. GTE claims to have met with 30 healthcare consultants and read 20 industry reports before making the buy, which brought the organization 150 hospital clients on the IBM AS/400-based system. Gee!

Fast forward to 2009, and what's become of MedSeries 4? It was acquired by SMS in 1994 as an “If you can't-beat 'em, join 'em” response to the turnkey mini revolution that was weakening shared system sales. SMS' superb sales and marketing team has sold another 250 hospitals since then, with MedSeries' client base totaling 400 hospitals today. With a new “WebConnect” physician portal and clinical front-end, it still competes well in the small to mid-size community hospital market, running on IBM's new pSeries hardware.

Healthcare Informatics 2009 August;26(8):56