Software entrepreneur Paul Egerman is no stranger to the HIT industry. After coming on the scene in the early 1970s, he found repeated success in starting, building and ultimately selling some of the most well-known companies in the industry. When the HITECH legislation called for the creation of Policy and Standards Committees to help guide ONC, Egerman was very interested. After joining the Policy Committee earlier in the year, Egerman volunteered for the Workgroup on Certification and Adoption, where his purview necessarily included the fate of CCHIT. Last week, Egerman’s workgroup delivered its recommendations, which called for a major shakeup of the status quo. Recently, HCI Editor-in-Chief Anthony Guerra had a chance to talk with Egerman about the group's work.
GUERRA: Tell me a little bit about your history in the HIT industry.
EGERMAN: I entered this industry in 1971 when I graduated from college as a computer programmer at Mass General Hospital, and I wrote one of the very early computerized medical record systems in a language called MUMPS, so I was part of that whole group at Mass General. When I was 24 years old in 1974, I started what I sometimes call my first company, which is IDX (now owned by GE Healthcare IT). I’m one of the original founders of IDX. It would more accurate to call me a cofounder, I didn’t do it by myself; there were clearly other people involved and for many, many years. So I worked over 20 years in IDX. I did a lot of roles, but mainly as chief operating officer.
I was with the company at the time it went public and after that occurred, I was very fortunate, I took some time off and traveled around the world with the kids and did some political work and some philanthropic work and then somehow I found it stressful to not have any stress. I disliked not working and so in 1999, with my partner Ben Chigier, we started eScription which is a company that did speech recognition for physicians. We had a very good run with that company and actually we sold it about a year ago to Nuance.
I’ve been very fortunate in that I had two companies that turned out very well. Right now I’m doing this work for the government, for the HIT Policy Committee and I’m doing some community work also. I’m the vice chairman of the Museum of Science here in Boston. I have strong beliefs in education and technology. I’m also on the Board of the New Israel Fund which deals with social justice domestically within Israel.
Those are the three things I do. I got onto the Policy Committee because I think it’s doing critically important work, and I wanted to see if I could help. I’m not representing any self-interest or special interest; I thought I had some experience and I was hopeful I could make a contribution.
GUERRA: Are you still involved with eScription or Nuance?
EGERMAN: No, I’m not.
GUERRA: Okay, so you’re not involved with any of those private companies that you had worked on or started at this point?
EGERMAN: That’s correct. I mean, it’s ‘software entrepreneur’ on my title because somehow I hate when I’m called the “R” word – retired. Perhaps it’s just a reflection of who I am. My colleague Mark Probst (fellow committee member and Intermountain Healthcare CIO) says, “I’d love to have that title.” That guy works like a dog. Poor guy. But I’m not involved right now in business; I’m doing these things.
GUERRA: And to get on the committee, did you submit your name? How was that handled?
EGERMAN: The way it works, in general, is that there were notices published in the Federal Register. You put your name in the hat. One of the things that I learned was that there were four political appointees that were going to get on the committee — one was from the Speaker of the House, one is the Minority Leader of the House and there was the majority leader of the Senate and the minority leader of the Senate. Through my political work, I knew Nancy Pelosi, so I approached her office and put my name in the hat for her appointment and got interviewed by her, so I was actually appointed by Nancy Pelosi.
GUERRA: Was there anything specific in your mind that you wanted to do, or prevent, that spurred you to volunteer for the committee?
EGERMAN: No, there was not. It was really an issue of the fact that I had read the legislation. I was fascinated by the whole thing. I felt that here was a really good opportunity to do something very interesting for our industry, but I also read and felt that this was a great opportunity to make a lot of mistakes and screw up. I was just hopeful that I had some level of experience that I could be helpful. So there’s nothing concrete that I wanted to do or to not do.
GUERRA: I’ve listened to all the meetings and Tweeted updates from them. You seem to strike me as one of the more vocal members of the committee. Is that just a product of your personality?