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The Story of the Healthcare Informatics 100

May 19, 2014
by Gabriel Perna
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The first HCI 100 (then 50) cover. Credit: Bill Childs

In 1980, the first issue of Computers in Hospitals came out. When readers turned the page, they saw a picture of Bill Childs and the headline: “A Snapshot of Where We Have Been and Where We Are Going.”

Childs was the founder, editor and publisher of Computers in Hospitals. Ten years later, that magazine would be renamed Healthcare Informatics. Two years after that, in 1992, the first version of what was then called the Healthcare Informatics 50 (later 100) was released. The first company ranked at the top, SMS Corporation (now a part of Siemens), had revenue of $438.7 million. This year, the top company, McKesson, had revenue of $3.4 billion.

Indeed, where Healthcare Informatics, the Healthcare Informatics 100, and the entire healthcare IT industry have been and where they are going is a case study in how things can evolve. What started off as a “light bulb” idea after Childs met with a famous publishing industry magnate has evolved into a popular, well-known industry standard comprised of billion dollar companies. In many ways, it mirrors how healthcare IT in itself has changed over the past three decades.

Healthcare Informatics Senior Editor Gabriel Perna recently spoke with Childs, who currently works as a consultant to the industry, on the history of the magazine, the list, and how it has grown over the years. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Credit: Bill Childs

Bill, explain to our readers who you are and your significance to Healthcare Informatics.

I was recently putting together a presentation and I was thinking about necessity being the mother of invention. Often, new things come up, because something is not right with the old thing. What came up with me was I met with a publisher of specialty magazines at a Christmas party in Denver in 1979. He published magazines that went out to communications industry and other things like that. We began talking and he had asked me about radio frequency design, which was a magazine he wanted to start. It turns out that at Lockheed, the RF engineers that had worked for me a number of years before. Not too many people understand the nuances of radio frequency, which I do, and he was looking for a publisher for that magazine. I wasn’t interested but said that in our business, we’re trying to reach information systems people and people who have a vision what information systems can do for healthcare. We go into Modern Healthcare and Hospitals Magazine but their reach is broad. We might put in an ad for a million dollar ad system and they might put it next to an advertisement for diapers. Or they might put an ad for diapers right in the middle of technological discussion about information systems. I thought there was a real need for a magazine devoted to actual computerization information systems within hospitals. He said, if you will help publish this radio frequency magazine, I will help you publish something we called Computers in Hospitals. We launched both magazines in 1980. The timing was perfect. Immediately we had people in hospitals and from the vendor side who wanted to write articles about what they were doing. We had the circulation list and we had advertisers.

First cover of Computers in Hospitals Credit: Bill Childs

Where did the idea behind what eventually came to be the Healthcare Informatics 100 come from?

I was honored at an awards ceremony in New York City for publishing the most read editorial of any magazine in the U.S. as a percentage of circulation. It was close to 90 percent. I met Malcolm Forbes there, and we sat at the same table. He was talking at that time about his Forbes magazine’s Forbes 500. He was lamenting the fact that because that had not jumped on the right name the first time, it impressed upon him of being first with the right name. Fortune had beaten them to list with the Fortune 500.

I took that home. At the time, we were having problems with the name of the magazine. What happened was Marion Ball, who I go way back with, and I were invited to do a speaking tour throughout Europe one summer. We spoke at a lot of university medical centers. We were at one in France and we saw on the blackboard a word that said “informatique” in French, which translated into the “science of information.” That’s how we came up with Healthcare Informatics. Then we named the list, at that time, the Healthcare Informatics 50 and then later it grew to 100 as more and more got interested.

The first issue of Healthcare Informatics Credit: Bill Childs

Had you been thinking of doing something like this when you met Malcolm Forbes, or did the light bulb go off after you met him?

I was an admirer of Forbes editorials and of the magazine, and I think it was the light bulb that went off and having the opportunity to sit and talk with such an established, well-spoken gentleman.

How did you eventually come up with 100?