Retiring OSU Wexner systems analyst reflects on 50 years in health IT

A lot changes in health IT in 50 days, let alone 50 years. Just ask Harry Evans.

The senior systems analyst plans to retire this fall after a five-decade career with Columbus-based Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

"I would not have believed 50 years ago when I walked into the place that we would be anywhere near where we are now," Mr. Evans, 75, told Becker's.

When he started in 1972, the facility's only computer was a huge mainframe model.

"A cellphone has more power than that thing did," Mr. Evans said.

At first, computers primarily handled admissions, discharges and billing.

In 1980, the big innovation was the installation of a digital telephone system. Later, the hospital began working on transmitting computer data over telephone cables. 

Lots of changes in a half-century

Personal computers entered the scene in the mid-1980s, and Mr. Evans worked to connect those to the hospital mainframe.

"The first time I saw data transmitted at 9600 baud, I didn't think anything would be better than that," he said.

Later, with the help of a big telecommunications company, the hospital put terminals in patient rooms connected to a Unix box — a precursor to EHRs.

"In the first part of the '90s — I can't recall the name of the damn system — we began to make a much more concerted effort to begin work on the electronic medical record," he said. "At the same time, we were starting to look at things such as Sunquest, which was our clinical lab system. There was also implementation of a new radiology computer system."

Another forerunner to the EHR came in the mid-'90s, connecting to nursing units and patient billing through personal computers.

EHRs, now the cloud

In the 2000s, OSU Wexner started contracting with Epic, eventually customizing its EHR.

Along the way, Mr. Evans' role went from telephones and networking to web server administration.

"Frankly, when I first started in telecommunications, then later with information technology, I didn't know what the hell I was doing," he said. "But a whole bunch of other people didn't know. The bosses didn't know. I didn't know. Because nobody knew. Everybody was kind of learning together. Can't really do that much so much anymore. You kind of have to be able to hit the ground running. But looking at manuals and trial and error, we were able to accomplish some things."

Lately, Mr. Evans has been focusing on transitioning OSU Wexner's on-premise SharePoint platform to SharePoint in the cloud. He expects further cloud migration to be a big part of the job for his successors.

"Within a couple years much of the stuff we do from a web standpoint on premise will be all cloud-based," he said. "Maybe here in the next couple of years, I'll come back and see what's different, which will probably be a whole hell of a lot."

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