New technology, ancient origins: How Epic, Cerner & more got their names

Most EHR vendors have barely hit their 50th anniversary, but their namesakes trace back to origins as early as ancient Rome and early Greek mythology.

Here's how four major players in the EHR market got their names:

Athenahealth: Jonathan Bush and Todd Park founded the company in 1997 as a medical practice and birthing clinic in San Diego called Athena Women's Health — a reference to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war. Mr. Bush and Mr. Park noticed their team was expending significant effort to get reimbursed for their services and decided to take a stab at developing their own solution. They soon rebranded the company — now a cloud-based IT services provider for medical practices beyond women's health — as athenahealth, keeping the name "Athena" for its association with wisdom and strength.

Cerner: Neal Patterson, Paul Gorup and Cliff Illig launched Cerner in 1979 as a software company called PGI & Associates, based on the first letters of their three last names. Five years later the company launched its first product, PATHnet, a laboratory information systems program for pathology practices. The three founders chose to rename the company following the product's launch in 1984, and selected the name Cerner, derived from the Latin word cernere, which loosely translates as "to discern." The company chose the name Cerner because Jeanne Lillig-Patterson, Mr. Patterson's wife, liked it, according to Forbes.

Epic: Judy Faulkner famously founded Epic in a Wisconsin basement in 1979. The company, originally called Human Services Computing, developed data analysis software for local governments and the University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology department, according to the Madison newspaper Isthmus. The company rebranded as Epic in 1983 after releasing a patient scheduling program. Today, the company's website notes that an epic is a "glorious recounting of a nation's events … [and] like the Iliad or the Odyssey, our electronic health records chronicle the story of a patient's healthcare over time."

Meditech: Meditech's story begins in 1964 — five years before it formally opened for business — when the company's founder A. Neil Pappalardo developed a computer programming language designed for the healthcare industry. The language, MUMPS, or the Massachusetts General Hospital Utility Multi-Programming System, is still in use today. Mr. Pappalardo believed computer systems would be able to streamline care processes throughout a hospital, and he expanded his software vision into the health IT company Medical Information Technology in 1968, which opened its doors in 1969. Today, the company's name is almost always abbreviated as Meditech.

Editor's note: Allscripts, which does not outline company history on its website, did not respond to Becker's Hospital Review's request for comment July 25.

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