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One degree of separation: Reconnecting with college collaborator shows HIT world is a small one

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Dr. John Halamka
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.

Copyright 2014 MedCity News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Dr. John D. Halamka

By Dr. John D. Halamka

Dr. John D. Halamka is chief information officer and dean for technology at Harvard Medical School who writes at Life as a Healthcare CIO.
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