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Shady Practices Still Practiced

June 26, 2009
by Vince Ciotti
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20 years ago, Bill Childs called it like he saw it. Today, the healthcare IT industry is still seeing some of the same things

A look back to “U.S. Healthcare” magazine for July, 1989:

Featured Ad: Baxter Systems Division - a two-page color ad by this drug giant that had acquired three of the leading HIS vendors of the ′80s. Baxter's acquisitions covered the full spectrum of hospital sizes, all running on then-dominant IBM hardware:

ALPHA - A turnkey mini-based system for small hospitals (under 100 beds), acquired from JS Data, a small New England firm that offered an integrated HIS running on IBM's System 34 minicomputers. JD Data competed against rivals like System's Associates “SAINT” in the small hospital market by stressing their IBM platform over SAINT's relatively unknown “Point Four” hardware. In the event, Baxter was acquired by HBOC, which eventually sunset the Alpha series, whereas Saint lives on today as McKesson's “Paragon” reincarnation.

DELTA - A larger turnkey mini system based on IBM's System 38 and targeted to mid-sized hospitals (between 100 and 400 beds), acquired from Dynamic Control Corporation (DCC). DCC was formed in Florida in the late ′70s and was easily one of the most successful turnkey mini systems, with over 270 sales by 1989. They too stressed the power and stability of their IBM hardware over rivals like Meditech, which ran on “lesser” minis from DEC or Data General. Delta also lives on today as McKesson's “Series” system, with hundreds of hospitals still faithful to its RPG programming language and Query report writer.

OMEGA - The big, mainframe-based system that cost about as much in equivalent 1989 dollars as the epic prices some vendors command today. Running on IBM's 43XX or 30XX water-cooled monsters that filled an entire room and dimmed the lights when booted, these systems were targeted for the largest (400 bed and up) AMCs that alone could afford them, and their attendant IT staff, included: Mount Sinai in New York, Northwestern Memorial in Chicago, Beth Israel in Boston, and Orlando Regional in Florida. Omega was based on IBM's PCS/ADS system, and also eventually acquired by HBOC/McKesson. It lives on today as part of its “HealthQuest” line, with more than 100 large clients.

In an interview in the same issue, Frank Russo, president of Baxter's Systems Division, was queried about rumors that GTE was considering buying the DELTA line. Frank adamantly denied the rumors, asserting that “Baxter systems is NOT for sale.” He was partly right: GTE bought MedSeries IV from Intermountain Healthcare, which eventually sold it to SMS. Baxter's IBM hardware reliance led to the formation of “IBAX,” owned by IBM and Baxter, which renamed the above product lines one more time as Series 3000 (Alpha/JS Data), Series 4000 (DELTA/DCC) and Series 5000 (OMEGA/PCS). Got that, class?

Gutsy Editorial: Editor Bill Childs was easily one of the most courageous and gifted pioneers in the HIS industry, starting as one of the first salesmen for Lockheed's pioneering CPOE system in the ′70s (along with Ron Johnson), and creating the HIS publishing industry by starting two of its earliest magazines, which we have been quoting from. In an editorial 20 years ago, he had the guts to take on a practice that is unfortunately still a problem today: consultant abuse. Bill lamented the fact that many consulting firms were in essence “in bed” with selected vendors whose systems they installed, thus compromising their objectivity in the selection process. To quote Childs: “Probably the biggest complaint from vendors is that system selection and implementation should be separated into two separate events and contracts. Consultants who have these bundled together have an unfair advantage in leveraging, or perhaps even blackmailing, vendors into recommending them for the implementation role.”

Right on, Bill! How sad things were back then, and isn't it great how much progress we have made since. Why, today, no hospital would dream of using the same “consulting” firm to select as system and implement it …

Healthcare Informatics 2009 July;26(7):56