Everything Else

Is there a doctor in the house?

2002.08.22--The mere length of time that has passed since our troubles began has been enough to promulgate the kind of hysteria we recently encountered. Symptomatic of the bigger picture, in the Helix community, a discussion was underway about whether or not Helix might be the culprit in a situation where something didn’t work properly.

Helix can only be a culprit in a software conflict up to where it was when development stopped. As a release, version 5.0.2 can only be a culprit as to what it did under Classic running in the prevailing version of OSX at the time, which was probably OS 10.1 or something. Everything else has moved past Helix into OSX. Helix is nearly there but stalled.

One can only wonder, as emboldened at the top of this page: is there a doctor in the house?

A frequent comment we receive about Helix has to do with the way it is marketed. We often hear that the way it’s being done is wrong (as though a conscious effort to market Helix actually existed! And was underway!). Less frequently, but more importantly, we hear about how Helix ought to be sold and very often, these comments come from physicians.

Now with a little bit of thinking we could easily generate a list of what it is about Helix that might appeal to a physician. For that matter, it wouldn’t be too hard to do the same for practitioners of practically any other art in which Helix plays a role.

While Helix has clearly been accused of appealing to the "iconoclast" in all of us, that appeal seems to fall into some very distinct business categories. In addition to doctors, there are hundreds of law firms, hospitals, universities, libraries, museums, manufacturing companies, government agencies, military departments, publishing companies and entertainment businesses using Helix.

And while we’re on the subject, just for the record, if you want to look under a rock for Helix users, here’s what you’ll find in the category of 0.3 users per 1,000 records: one computer training company, one cosmetics firm, one civil engineering company, one interior designer, one ISP, one market research company, one mining company, one podiatrist, one armored security firm and one storage facility (that hurts!). In all the other storage facilities, one has to wonder if there’s already a proprietary application or everyone is writing things down on little slips of paper...

But what about those doctors? There are, in fact, hundreds of doctors in the house of Helix. About 133 per 1,000. And we’ve been hearing from and communicating with many of them lately. When they get wind of the troubles that Helix has been having, they all seem to have the same response.

Now most people would expect, based upon little more than how difficult it is to get an appointment with one, that a doctor is an extremely busy person and that is, in fact, the case. Yet now that widespread panic for the imminent demise of Helix has spread throughout the world, they seem to be taking the time to contact us because of the very nature of how they believe Helix is most useful to them, and it can be summed up in a word: flexibility.

One doctor, who made a point of telling us that he’s not a programmer, said that Helix has enabled him to do two important things: write a system for his practice and keep modifying it as needs dictate. This is a frequently echoed sentiment.

Some of these guys have been around Helix a very long time. "I’ve never seen Helix [advertising] talk about how flexible it is," said another.

When asked what was more important, ease of learning or flexibility, they all come down on the side of flexibility.

We also expect doctors to be reasonably intelligent people. Most of them have to learn biology, chemistry, physics, biophysics and the like. "Listen," another one said, "learning Helix isn’t like rocket science. I’ve learned FileMaker and I’ve even gotten pretty good with 4D, but nothing can touch the power of Helix when it comes to getting something I need in place quickly. I don’t have hours and hours to spend doing this stuff, yet it’s important that I do it because it’s quicker and easier for me to do it than to spend time explaining it to someone else."

Now if you’re a Helix developer reading this, please don’t interpret this as a swipe at developers. Not only are there hundreds of doctors using Helix, but a fairly significant percentage of them are also Helix developers, and that begs a couple of very interesting questions...

What are they doing with Helix?

What is it about Helix that appeals to so many physicians? In both clinical and practice settings, Helix is being used to serve the information needs of physicians and nurses.

At a neonatal ICU in Pennsylvania, for example, Dr. Rob Stavis has a Helix system that runs around the clock and serves three shifts of nurses with both the vital information they need and a logical, easy-to-use place to put it all.

Rob says "One thing that rarely gets mentioned in these discussions is the desktop functionality. Aside from my NICU database, I’ve got a Pediatrics Departmental database with doctors' names, offices, phone numbers, several collections for cost analyses, and a medical-legal billing system.

More recently, I’ve been using Helix to create a user interface so I could input a lot of data that needed to find its way into Excel. Most of my Helix projects take minutes to build, and they make lots of projects much easier.

Anytime there’s something I have to deal with that involves records, data entry, or text manipulation, a Helix collection is likely going to be the easiest/fastest way to collect, process, analyze, and archive the data."

At hospitals, clinics and doctors' offices throughout North America, Helix is used to schedule patient visits, take medical histories, share patient data and much more.

At Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York, Dr. Henry Spotnitz, Vice Chair for Research and Information Systems in the Department of Surgery, uses Helix to keep statistical information on surgical procedures performed at the center and makes it available to users of both Macintosh and other computers by presenting data on the Internet.

A little examination will find that a lot of terrific and very usable work has been done using Helix in these vital professions.

How can developers and physicians help each other and help Helix?

For one thing, physicians are concerned about the future of Helix because they fear losing this valuable tool and being forced to use something else.

Developers who specialize in Helix health care and medical applications have both something useful to impart to medical professionals and perhaps a great deal to learn from them as well. While it’s impossible to quantify the result of taking an active role in partnering these people at Macintosh events such as Macworld Expo, we can at least bring increased attention to both groups and attract new users. Together, maybe they could start to develop standards that could be used by anyone wishing to develop and sell applications in this always important and ever-changing marketplace. Maybe they could elevate the state-of-the-art in medical software to a place where more people would want to try it. We certainly can’t do worse than the historical nothing-at-all.

For what it’s worth, there are other popular domains. The largest creatures among the Helix populations, those in at least triple figures per 1,000 include businesses that classify themselves in Education, Healthcare (I.e., hospitals, auxiliary medical industries), and manufacturing.

I’ve harbored a theory for a long time that Helix has thrived (Groucho might ask, "You call this living?") pretty much in spite of its marketing, not because of it. So in my limited spare time, I look for ideas that haven’t been done to death already, or haven’t already been done improperly. What is vividly clear is what will not work, what has been tried and failed.

What does it all have to do with doctors? Schools? Hospitals? Manufacturers? Well, for starters, there’s a lot of them using Helix. And there’s a lot who have either stopped or haven’t upgraded in quite some time. And there’s a lot who have been with us for years and have stopped at version 4.5.5.

Let’s talk about those people for just a moment, physicians and otherwise. And let’s talk for a minute about 5.0.2. Helix users in the "new era," that is, Helix users who began to use or who continue to use Helix products created under the management of The Chip Merchant, break into two camps: 4.5.5 users and 5.0.2 users.

4.5.5 was a free download for RADE. If you owned Servers, you had to pay for those, but if all you had was "Helix," the upgrade was free. The risk was minimal.

The thinking behind this was simple. Make it free. People will buy Servers. That theory works on almost every level except one: the one we’re in now. Too many factors beyond our control forced us to the situation we’re in. We’re a few months of work away from having something that will truly enable us to generate the kind of income Helix needs to get to the next place after Carbonization.

Is the fact that 4.5.5 owners outnumber 5.0.2 owners by nearly 5-to-1 bad news? Depends upon how you look at it.

Clearly, the fact that the product shipped with a software dongle was a big mistake. If no one has apologized as yet to the faithful for this, we will do it for them.

Another big mistake was that the product was offered at the same price to everyone. No upgrade pricing. No reward for loyalty. Big mistake. Huge. Again, I don’t believe any apology could ever make the difference here. In my mind, this was bigger than the dongle. And I’m sure we could belt that around all day but the fact is that people who needed Helix and wanted to upgrade may have been annoyed about the dongle, but they were insulted by the lack of uprade pricing.

Now I’d like to shovel dirt over both of these unfortunate occurrences and, to borrow another overused phrase, "get past" this episode once and for all. If you’re still here and still in 4.5.5 and its because you’re still angry, let it go. You want Helix to get there and you should give us a hand.

Again, everything depends on how we look at it. At current upgrade prices, if they all upgraded, we might just about get there. In fact, we think there’s a way it could even be done for less than that, but we’re going to need your help. Take a look at what you’re using Helix for right now. Think about whether or not you want to get to OSX. Take a look at what your upgrade would cost by going to our web site and then call us at 1.800.784.7018 and we’ll try our best to make you an irresistible offer. If that doesn’t appeal to you, call a doctor!

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