Cheers to 40 years! Celebrating four decades of 3M Health Information Systems – Part 3

Oct. 30, 2023 / By Ron Mills, PhD

We’re celebrating 40 years of 3M Health Information Systems (HIS)! We couldn’t do it without our employees’ hard work and dedication. 

Working at 3M HIS can undoubtedly be fun. From navigating industry changes, alleviating obstacles for our clients and seeing the impact our solutions and services can make for physicians, coders, nurses, administrators and patients, there’s always something exciting happening. 

Our people make the big things happen, and we are thrilled to share their personal stories, experiences and successes over the years. Keep reading to learn more about one 3Mer’s experience with the early days of the diagnosis related groups (DRGs), notable achievements and what he sees for the future of the Medicare Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS). 

Name: Ron Mills 

Job title: Former software architect, clinical and economic research, 3M HIS 

Years at 3M: 24 years at 3M, 53 years in software 

Can you tell us more about your role and background? How did you become a 3Mer? How long have you been with the company?  

In 1970, I was part of a group that formed a small company to promote DRGs, which we had recently developed and tested at Yale-New Haven Hospital using 100,000 ICD-7 coded discharges. Shortly thereafter, Rich Averill came on board, as did many others, some of whom are still working at 3M HIS. During the 70s, the company experimented with a variety of projects and products, but the most significant turned out to be a collaboration with New Jersey, led by Rich, to further develop the DRGs and demonstrate their effectiveness as a basis for hospital reimbursement.  

In the early 80s Rich took over the company and renamed it Health Systems International (HSI). I went off to pursue other adventures. Rich guided HSI into 3M where it became an integral part of 3M HIS. In 1999, Rich, then EVP and director of clinical and economic research (CER), contacted me and extolled the virtues (correctly it turns out) of working for a big company. So, I wound down my consulting gigs and joined his group where I worked on numerous challenging projects until Rich and I both retired in 2017. A year later, we returned as consultants to 3M HIS, working with Medicare data, developing a suite of hospital performance measures, and publishing papers explaining our findings. 

What do you like the most about working at 3M HIS? 

The people. Very professional but at the same time very pleasant to work with. I found my ideal life partner (Rhonda Butler) when we found ourselves assigned to the same CER project. 

What is your favorite part about your job? What excites you most? 

The technical challenges make things exciting. Analyzing large data sets, modeling complex clinical relationships and targeting a wide range of customer environments combine to force you to stay at the edge of current technology. 

What do you see as your biggest accomplishments since joining 3M?  

There is much that 3M HIS has accomplished over the last few decades. I like to reflect on the big accomplishments that I’ve been able to work on with amazing technical teams. Some of my most favorite accomplishments include: 

  • Converting all 3M groupers from ICD-9-CM to ICD-10-CM/PCS and developing software to help our customers through the transition 
  • Development of the Domain programming language and conversion of groupers to Domain 
  • Development of 3M™ Clinical Risk Groups (CRGs) 
  • Development, testing and promoting the quality outcomes performance measures (with Rich and CER, after retirement) 

What has been your proudest 3M HIS moment been so far? 

I received three 3M Circle of Technical Excellence and Innovation (CTE&I) awards and have a 3M patent in my name.  

What is one of your most favorite memories from 3M HIS? 

This would be before 3M HIS but leads into what would become our organization today. It takes place in the late 60s in the basement of one of the Yale buildings. We were working on a system for characterizing hospital patients into statistically significant, but clinically meaningful, subsets. (The computers were always in the basement because in those days they were too heavy for the upper floors of most Yale buildings.) John Thompson, who was a professor of epidemiology and public health and one of our principal investigators, walks into the room, removes the unlit cigar he was always chomping on, and says, “We are going to call them the ‘diagnosis related groups’.” “John,” I stammered. “That’s terrible. They work so well because they aren’t related only to diagnosis, they use procedures, sex, age …!”  

“Too bad,” he says, “from now on they will be known as the DRGs.” 

A 40th anniversary is a big milestone. What do you hope for the future of 3M HIS? Health care IT? In what ways do you expect to grow or see potential? 

First, as Rich and I addressed in our blog post earlier this year, we should expand on the principles that made the Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) successful as we develop hospital management tools that support a value-based approach to improving the cost of care: a small number of measures based on clinically meaningful and statistically stable risk adjustment which identifies where behavior change and performance improvement is achievable for a hospital relative to its peers.   

Second, even though the U.S. transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10 is a recent costly memory, the World Health Organization (WHO) has released ICD-11 – in my opinion, the coding system we always wished we had. Getting up to speed with ICD-11, first internationally, then domestically, will keep 3M HIS at the forefront of what can be done with coded data. ICD-11 may be the last coding system the world ever sees because … 

The rapid evolution of AI and machine learning and its application to medical records, where 3M HIS with M*Modal is currently a leader, will revolutionize coding and reimbursement. My generation brought computing to the management of health care; the next will bring AI and even greater opportunities. 

We are honored to feature a few individuals who are a part of a fantastic group that have shared their expertise and talent to help 3M HIS thrive over the years. Click here to read more stories of 3Mers as we celebrate 40 years of 3M HIS! 

Ron Mills is a former software developer for clinical and economic research at 3M Health Information Systems.