National Health IT Week

Apparently, we're coming up on the "8th Annual Health IT Week", September 16-20, 2013. That's great news – but it did surprise me. I've worked in the field of Health IT for almost 40 years and I just stumbled across Health IT Week.

National Health IT Week is a virtual event with numerous activities planned in communities from Maine to California. For more information, go to the National Health IT Week web site.

Perhaps one way to celebrate this special week would be to highlight the tremendous progress that has been made over the past 50 years.  We tend to focus on the future and where we are heading, but sometimes a look back can be a good thing.

Think back to the 1960's – the age of Electronic Accounting Machines (EAM), punch cards, the emergence of 1st generation large mainframe computer systems, machine languages, FORTRAN, and a small handful of experimental health related software applications. I entered the field just as that decade came to a close.

The 1970's saw the introduction of the first database management systems (DBMS), the first interactive cathode ray tube (CRT) workstations, and the next generation of programming languages, e.g. COBOL. We also saw the emergence of the first crude patient registration, pharmacy , and laboratory systems installed in a small number of progressive hospitals in a few cities across the U.S.

During the late 1970's and early 1980's, the first mini-computers arrived and the concept of distributed computing systems started to take hold. A number of major healthcare organizations, like the VA, DoD, Kaiser Permanente, and others developed and implemented the first generation of integrated hospital information systems – many of them using the ANSI 'M' computer programming language.

The 1990's were characterized by the widespread deployment of client server technologies – PC workstations, file servers, local area networks (LAN), and the deployment of wide area networks (WAN).  Hospital systems became more complex, including more sophisticated functionality, and the first electronic health record (EHR) systems were developed and began to be deployed. Health IT systems began to be deployed and used in outpatient clinic settings.

The first decade of the 21st century saw the widespread deployment and use of laptops and wireless technologies. The Internet and World Wide Web (WWW) took off enabling the concept of creating a  National Health Information Network (NHIN) to emerge.  The healthcare consumer also became a key part of the equation, and the first generation personal health records (PHR) and consumer health information systems were developed and deployed.

We're now looking at every healthcare provider using EHR systems by 2020 – and those systems will need to be continuously enhanced as genomic information and predictive health systems kick in and change all facets of the practice of healthcare as we know it. Nanotechnology, wearable systems, implantable systems, regenerative health, and who knows what else - are already in the pipeline.

The 'Open Health Movement' is playing a key role in helping to move things along at a rapid clip, e.g. 'open source' software, 'open data', 'open access', 'open standards', etc.  Collaboration, open solutions, sharing, and continuous innovation are the hallmarks of the 21st century and the 'Information Age' that is now upon us in full force.

…and somewhere along the way, I never noticed that we had put in place the annual celebration of National Health IT Week.  The future looks bright. Let's celebrate our accomplishments and keep or eyes on the ball – enhancing the quality of care, lowering costs, and using information technology (IT) to improve the health of everyone.

Share your thoughts on the past, present and future of Health IT with our readers here at Open Health News (OHN).

* Read more about the History of Open Source & Health IT.