IN THE 1970S, THE ARRIVAL OF AUTOMATED LAB ANALYZERS—such as the Technicon SMAC 6 and SMAC 12—also coincided with the introduction of the first laboratory information systems (LIS). Probably no single pathologist had a bigger role in developing useful LIS products than Sidney Goldblatt, MD, who founded Sunquest Information Systems in 1979.
Last month, the family of still-active pathologist Goldblatt, 87, announced he had died on Jan. 3, 2022. A cause of death was not released. He was described 20 years ago in The Dark Report as “one of the lab industry’s shrewdest minds.” (See TDR, March 11, 2002.)
“Sid’s interests, his intellectual abilities, and his drive did not have to do with money. Instead, they had to do with advancing healthcare and advancing laboratory systems,” said Dennis Winsten, President at Dennis Winsten and Associates, an LIS consulting firm in Tucson, Ariz. Winsten worked with Goldblatt at Sunquest Information Systems in the 1980s.
Pioneer in LIS Technology
Goldblatt—known simply as “Dr. G” to many—was among the few pioneers for laboratory information systems as that technology debuted in the late 1970s. Intrigued by the need to move away from paper-based lab charts that were prone to human error, Goldblatt dabbled with building his own LIS in the 1960s while working as a pathologist at Conemaugh Valley Memorial Hospital (now known as Conemaugh Health System) in Johnstown, Pa.
“Sid paired up with a sophisticated IT professional and built a home-brew LIS system in his lab,” said Bruce Friedman, MD, Emeritus Professor of Pathology in the Department of Pathology at Michigan Medicine and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. “They thought that their system had a broader potential.”
That technology in part led Goldblatt to co-founding Sunquest Information Systems in Tucson, Ariz., in 1979. Eventually, he became CEO there, a position he held from 1986 until its sale to Misys Healthcare in 2001 for $404 million. During that time, Goldblatt helped the company go public in 1996 before the Misys acquisition eventually brought Sunquest back as a private company.
In 2012, Roper Technologies in Sarasota, Fla., bought Sunquest for $1.4 billion. Just last month, Roper-owned CliniSys announced it would combine the LIS technology of Sunquest and Horizon Lab Systems. (See TDR, Jan. 31, 2022.)
Early on, Sunquest and Cerner Corporation in Kansas City, Mo., were the two major LIS vendors. Goldblatt’s dedication to the data and how to properly use it served him well over the years, Friedman noted. “It’s an exacting, precise, regulated field,” he said. “It is not for fly-by-night businessmen and systems.”
Focus on Lab Customers
When Goldblatt became CEO of Sunquest, he and the late Neal Patterson—former CEO at Cerner—were known as the top leaders steering the technology, but both stayed focused on customers.
“It was a smaller industry then,” Friedman recalled. “You could get Sid or Neal Patterson on the phone. It was a much more informal relationship back then between [health information technology] companies and customers.”
Friedman first got to know Goldblatt at an industry event that Friedman started in 1983 called Automated Information Management in Clinical Labs (AIMCL). The conference was held at the University of Michigan. Sunquest participated at the first conference. “He was often there personally,” Friedman said of Goldblatt’s frequent attendance at the events. AIMCL ran for 21 years.
The pathology industry first got involved with automation and data analysis in the late 1970s, largely because of the amount of patient information clinical laboratories generated. “When I started in February 1982, there were only a few pathologists involved in the field that would later be called pathology informatics,” Friedman said. “Sid was one of them.”
‘It Sticks in Your Mind’
One day while he was working at Sunquest as the Director of Marketing, Winsten had a memorable meeting with Goldblatt to discuss an issue. Winsten had traveled to Pennsylvania to talk to his CEO while the latter was performing an autopsy.
“Sid was still working as a practicing pathologist for many years at Conemaugh Valley Hospital,” Winsten remembered. “I needed to go there and talk with him about the LIS system. And he was doing an autopsy.
“I was talking business with Sid while he’s weighing the lungs of some poor deceased coal miner,” he added. “If you’ve ever seen a miner whose lungs were totally black, it sticks in your mind.”
Goldblatt continued to perform autopsies throughout his career at ForensicDx, located in Windber, Pa., which Goldblatt ran with his son, Curtis Goldblatt, MD, who followed in his father’s footsteps and became a pathologist.
After leaving Sunquest in 2001, Goldblatt founded other companies besides ForensicDX. He started Goldblatt Systems in Tucson in 2001 and served as CEO until his death. Goldblatt Systems offers a platform that provides structured clinical data to provider and payers.
Cancer Genetics, PGx
He also founded MolecularDx in Windber in 2014, which focuses on cancer genomics and pharmacogenetics. At one point, the company’s office was in a space at the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute for Molecular Medicine at Windber.
“When we first started the research institute at Windber, Dr. Goldblatt would come to my office on a regular basis to discuss the type of genomic and proteomics work we were doing,” F. Nicholas Jacobs, founding president of the institute, told The Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, Pa.
Despite the success of commercial labs, Goldblatt said in 2002 that hospital-based laboratories held stronger relationships with patients—a notion that he likely held until his death.
“Hospital labs have an advantage over Quest Diagnostics and Labcorp,” Goldblatt commented back then. “They have strong physician relationships, local access, inpatient and outpatient services, and complete patient records. These are assets that hospital labs should use to provide a better quality of lab testing services.”