When computer pioneer Commodore launched its PET series of home computers in 1977, the original model shipped with a paltry 4 kilobytes of random-access memory and an operating system written in Basic.
And as a boy began to play with that new toy, the seed was planted for the Philadelphia Health Information Exchange.
In April, the exchange was given a $1.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to expand and carry out research on the clinical impact of a system that now connects the picture archiving, or PACS, and radiology information systems, or RIS, of four Philadelphia hospitals containing more than 140 million images.
"The idea for a cross-enterprise sharing of data came to me when I was doing work at the University of Pennsylvania where they had a RIS and a PACS," says Elliot Menschik, M.D., founder and chief executive officer of Hx Technologies, whose software provides the connective tissue for the exchange.
Menschik says he started writing computer programs for games at age 8 on a Commodore PET, which used a cassette tape to store them. He went on to earn combined bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University, then received a doctorate in neuroscience and a degree in medicine from the University of Pennsylvania in 2000. Menschik also taught bioengineering as a member of Penn's faculty before founding his company in late 2000.
"About five years ago, it seemed the next step was cross-platform integration," he says. "There was very little activity in that space, but it seemed somebody had to start doing something. I ultimately settled on imaging as the ideal place to start."
National Cancer Institute spokeswoman Jennifer Thompson said the grant will be issued in two parts, with about $960,000 allocated for the first year and another $750,000 "for future cost support."
The exchange currently services three hospitals within the University of Pennsylvania Health System-the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Presbyterian Medical Center and Pennsylvania Hospital-as well as the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.