Meeting the need for a Canadian organization concerned with Canadian problems in healthcare computing

Around 1969, an IBM users group called Electronic Computing Health Oriented (ECHO) was formed. At the time, membership was limited to IBM customers, and their semi-annual meetings were a mix of IBM tech presentations and hospital CIO success stories. At one such event in 1975, Steve Huesing, Assistant Executive Director of the Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton, together with IBM National Health Industry Coordinator Robert Zuckerman, decided that a Canadian ECHO might be a good idea.

They pulled together all nine of the Canadian delegates in attendance, and a general agreement was reached: there was a definite need for a Canadian organization concerned with Canadian problems in healthcare computing—a national organization that would provide ideas, advice, and leadership to hospitals, government agencies, and medical associations.

Steven Huesing volunteered to coordinate, and the idea that would become Digital Health Canada was born. After much debate, the group decided that the fledgling Canadian organization would stand on its own, and not be affiliated with ECHO. At the August 18 + 19, 1975 founding meeting in Regina, six newly minted board members discussed membership, objectives, bylaws… and a new name. The Canadian Organization for Advancement of Computers in Health (Digital Health Canada) was now a reality. Eventually, the acronym (COACH) replaced the original name, and the tagline ‘Canada’s Health Informatics Association’ was added in 2001.

The first president

Steven Huesing, the first president of the association, was always grateful for conversations with members and loved having the opportunity to be enlightened, to learn, to influence, and to share.

Sharing knowledge with peers was one of the driving forces behind his efforts to ensure that the association began. Steve valued being part of the team that started the Canadian Organization for the Advancement of Computers in Health, and was honoured to have been the first President – it was truly his lifetime passion.

In 1976, Steve wrote to the COACH membership: “The history of computers in Health Care Delivery Systems is a short one in our country. The increased utilization of computers is not self-evident but inevitable. We hope that COACH can serve as a focal point for the process of sharing our thoughts and learning from one another. Join us and help make it work.”

Two significant achievements marked his first years as president: the first national conference, and the first member communication. The first COACH Conference was held in May of that same year, in Ottawa, with 164 attendees representing every province across Canada. The “I/O” newsletter, first published in 1976, provided an opportunity for members to share what was going on in their hospitals throughout the year.

The Steven Huesing Scholarship

Today we honour Steve’s memory with the Steven Huesing Scholarship, established in 1999 in recognition of the contribution that Steven made to the association. The scholarship was developed to reflect the spirit, dedication and innovation that the founding president brought to the field of health informatics (HI). Learn more about the scholarship at the link below.