Tuesday, January 22, 2013

One Degree of Separation

I have long believed that there is one degree of separation in the world of healthcare IT.   Everyone knows everyone and we're all connected in often amazing ways.   Here's one such story.

When I was in college, I looked at the daunting cost of Stanford tuition, room, board, and living expenses (almost $15,000 per year!) and thought that I should leverage the impending microcomputer revolution by writing tax computation software for early CP/M-based machines.   I did that from my dorm room (Kathy, my wife to be, wrote the manual).  As our "company" grew, I knew that I wanted to expand to other platforms, including mini-computers.   Only one problem - they were COBOL-based and I was not an expert in that language.  

I spoke with a few contacts in the accounting software industry and they referred me to a high school student in Davenport, Iowa who was writing financial applications as part of saving for college.

I contacted him and we agreed to a partnership.   My company would do sales, marketing, and support.   He would write the tax software for COBOL users.

Since I was born in Des Moines, Iowa and still had family in Iowa, I agreed to meet AR Weiler during one of my trips to visit my grandparents.   I recall meeting his parents and telling that I hoped our partnership would at least fund his college education.

The COBOL-based software sold a modest number of copies and was displaced by the emerging demand for MSDOS 1.0 applications when IBM introduced the PC and XT.   I dutifully sent checks to AR Weiler whenever COBOL software was sold.

I lost touch with AR but understood that he went to Harvard University and majored in computer science, presuming using the funds from his COBOL programming to partially fund his education.

After college he took a job with Oracle, working on several initiatives related to Japan.

Fast forward to 2013, it's 30+ years since I met AR in Davenport.

Last week, in response to my post about Consumer Electronics for Home Healthcare one of my colleagues forwarded information about an exciting new company, Healthsense,  that specializes in consumer sensors for home health applications including

Automatic fall detection
Emergency call pendant
Custom monitors designed for wandering, falls, or missed medication
Custom voice reminders for staff and residents
Activities of Daily Living (ADL) reports to track health and wellness indicators
Vital sign devices

I wanted to explore the company's senior management team.

Imagine my surprise when I found that the CEO was none other than AR Weiler.   His career since we worked together has included Emdeon, Ingenix, and Virgin Group.

It's truly a small world.

None of us can know exactly what will happen when we make choices and form relationships.  A partnership formed 30 years ago between a college student and a high school student somehow led to a convergence in healthcare IT.

Fate is a wonderful enabler.  Who knows what collaboration the future may bring.    Another important reason to continuously help those around you, since the person you empower today may be the person you depend on tomorrow.

1 comment:

Tom Grove said...

John, you are totally correct that all of us who work in healthcare IT are related in this way. I've often marveled at how the annual pilgrimage to HIMSS is a way to meet old friends and see where they work now.

Unfortunately, this can also be a two-edged sword, that I've always referred to as the consanguinity in healthcare IT. How often do you hear of hospitals looking for a CIO, programmer, or analyst with the we need a "Insert your vendor here" guy? Siemens shops hire Siemens experienced people; GE shops hire GE experienced people, and Cerner shops hire Cerner experienced people.

The other two ways we commonly get new staff? We hire someone straight out of school and teach them our bad habits, or we promote existing user who does a fantastic job during an upgrade/system replacement and we teach them our version of IT.

Senior management has to accept the responsibility to look beyond the healthcare community when we can, to make sure we import users with recent exposure to IT best practices, and to otherwise expose our existing staff to opportunities to learn that stretch beyond the healthcare arena.

The alternative is just like you expect when there aren't enough branches in the gene pool. We get stupider at a time when we desperately need the infusion of talent and skills.