Editor's Note: The is the eighth installment in our year-long 30th anniversary “Pioneers in Healthcare IT” celebration, featuring articles from past issues of Health Management Technology, formerly called Computers in Hospitals. This article appeared in the January/February 1982 issue.
Charles Barlow, vice president in charge of MCAUTO's health services division, is a pioneer in healthcare data processing. He began his career in the healthcare field in 1948 as an employee of a major oil company that operated a 100-bed hospital in the West Indies. The early part of his business career included approximately 10 years of international assignments involving residencies in South Africa, Australia and the Middle East, as well as in the West Indies.
In the late 1950s, Barlow joined the professional staff of a large international engineering and management consulting firm headquartered on the East Coast where many of his consulting assignments were with hospitals and utility companies. In the early 1960s, Barlow became a strong proponent of the shared concept for automating hospital financial procedures.
When Barlow joined McDonnell Douglas Automation (MCAUTO) in 1967 to assume leadership of its consulting staff, he brought his interest in the hospital shared-computer concept with him and was instrumental in getting MCAUTO into the healthcare data-processing business. He credits the initial success of shared-computer processing in the healthcare marketplace to the advent of Medicare and Medicaid, which gave some commonality of direction to hospital paperwork and procedures, and to the advancements in data-communications technology that occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s that made it possible to think in terms of national shared healthcare data processing.
Barlow saw this as an opportune time to offer a service that could meet the dire needs of an industry that was relatively inexperienced in the use of computers and lacked many of the resources necessary to accomplish the task at hand.
Prior to entering the market, MCAUTO's consulting staff, under Barlow's guidance, spent approximately two years surveying and evaluating the requirements and potentials of a specialized data-processing service for the healthcare industry. After determining that the business potentials for such a service were attractive, Barlow then directed his staff to determine whether it would be better to start from scratch and develop a shared processing system, or to acquire an existing system. The acquisition course was selected.
Barlow was responsible for laying the groundwork and developing the concept of a full-service shared approach for providing data processing to hospitals.
After investigating several systems, it was determined that some of the best automated applications available to hospitals were being offered by a Catholic order in Peoria, Ill. MCAUTO subsequently acquired from this order its data-processing staff, facilities, client base and application programs.
Barlow was responsible for laying the groundwork and developing the concept of a full-service shared approach for providing data processing to hospitals. He stressed, in the formation of the health services division, that its most important product was service. This principle is still evident today as it is reflected in all of MCAUTO's continuing commitments to the healthcare industry. In 1970, Barlow was appointed director of MCAUTO's health services division and, in 1973, he was promoted to vice president of the division.
Under Barlow's leadership, the health services division has grown from the original, acquired client base of 29 Midwestern hospitals to more than 1,150 hospitals, clinics and healthcare organizations in 46 states. The division's product line has also grown under Barlow's guidance.
Barlow held a B.A. degree in economics from Western Michigan University and a M.B.A. from the University of Michigan.