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Mini Breakthroughs

February 1, 2009
by Vince Ciotti
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The booming minicomputer market and groundbreaking documentation tools dominated the headlines two decades ago

A look back at February 1989 to see what was “new” in HIT then, and any lessons for today.

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1. DEC — A stunning two-page, full color ad from DEC graced the inside cover of U.S. Healthcare, warning that, “No matter how powerful your PC gets, it will never be powerful enough.” Sage advice in those days, when PC memory was measured in kilobytes and hard drives in a few megabytes. DEC was pushing their “PDP” series of minis as being able to connect to PCs through “DECwindows” software, pictured below.

DEC, Data General, HP and Wang dominated the hospital minicomputer market back in the 80s, through turnkey HIS vendors like Dynamic Control (IBM SYS 38), Keane (Wang minis), Gerber-Alley (DEC PDP), IFAS (HP 6000) and PHS (DG MV 10000). All of these minicomputer and software vendors are gone today (DEC being bought by Compaq in 1998). Only Hewlett Packard lives on under the same name.

2. SMS — ran a full-page ad listing 100-plus hospitals that had been using a shared system for more than 10 years. Amazingly, 2009 will be the 40th anniversary of the founding of SMS in 1969. Wish Siemens would publish which of these hospitals are still with them 30-plus years later! Here's some from their ad that I think might still be with them in 2009, an amazing feat: Altoona Hospital, Altoona, Pa.; Berwick Hospital Center, Berwick, Pa.; Cape Canaveral Hospital, Cocoa Beach, Fla.; Community Medical Center, Scranton, Pa.; East Jefferson Hospital, Metairie, La.; Hamot Medical Center, Erie, Pa.; Holy Cross Hospital, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Lankenau Hospital, Wynnewood, Pa.; Moses Taylor Hospital, Scranton, Pa.; New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., New York; Paoli Hospital, Paoli, Pa.; Presbyterian Medical Center (now Penn Presbyterian Medical Center), Philadelphia; Richmond University Medical Center, New York; and St. Mary's Hospital, Huntington, W.Va.

Nursing Shortage “May Drastically Impact Patient Care”

With over 130,000 vacant nursing positions nationwide, Carolyn Davis, chair of the Department of Human Health and Services, expressed concern that overworked nurses will make more and more errors due to long hours and short staffing. How did the HIS industry react? By selling “bedside terminals” to help nurses:

  • PNUT — Portable Nursing Unit Terminal was the pioneer in the early '80s, offered by NCR as a handheld device to aid nurses in recording patient vital signs. Great ads, big marketing splash, tons of leads, no sales …

  • CliniCom — brainchild of founder Peter Gombrich, who lost a relative to a medication error, and created the first bedside medication verification system in the mid-'80s to prevent future errors. It had an ironing-board-shaped device for nurses to scan their ID band, the patient's ID band, and a bar-coded unit dose, sent by radio to a Plexus microcomputer. There just weren't many UPC codes on RX packages in those days … CliniCom was bought by HBOC, morphed into their “Pathways” nursing documentation system, and lives on today as part of McKesson's Horizon.

  • MedTake — dreamed up by a Long Island company as a milk crate-like device to assist RNs in taking patient vital signs, but ran afoul of FDA approval because it contacted patients through thermometers, cuffs, etc. Acquired by Micro Healthsystems in New Jersey, which morphed it into a PC device with a custom keyboard enabling nurses to easily enter vitals, condition, assessments, etc., though menu selections. Sold well enough to be bought by Baxter, who later sunset it. Micro Healthsystem's president Jim Pesce is now a top vice president at McKesson, presiding over Paragon.

  • HIMSS History — A five-page spread featured interviews with the officers of HIMSS, including old-timers Rich Correll, Rich Rydell and Everett Hines (all nearly as old as me!), with some fascinating background information.

Healthcare Informatics 2009 February;25(14):56