Examining three decades of health IT change

After more than 30 years working at the National Institutes of Health National Library of Medicine, outgoing director Donald Lindberg has seen first-hand the changes technology has had on the healthcare industry.

Lindberg retired April 1, and tells Kaiser Health News in an interview that he had a hand in many government-funded sorting initiatives of new and old medical information the library saw.

"When I first arrived at NLM, I didn't come prepared to change anything, but technology was changing all around all of us," he says. "We've had to make major changes or else we would have become obsolete."

Of the projects he played a role in, Lindberg says that Medline Plus--a database that provides information such as what chemicals end up in mother's milk--was one of the biggest. The site was so popular, a mobile version was launched in 2011, FierceMobileHealthcare reported.

In the whole field, the Human Genome Project had one of the biggest impacts, Lindberg adds.

Currently, similar programs are taking root, including an effort by the Obama to examine the human brain and build a map of its activity. A New York Times article compared the effort to the Human Genome Project.

Some of the other changes tech brought to the industry were smaller, but just as helpful, Lindberg adds. He remembers one nurse being thankful for computers because it allowed her to create an alphabetized list of names on the ward.

He said today telemedicine is a "very powerful" innovation for the industry. It's allowing people to meet with experts in fields that aren't as widespread, such as dermatologists.

Down the road, Lindberg says he sees patient engagement dominating change in healthcare.

"You can't underestimate patients. [Now] versus when I got started ... they're willing to participate in medical-decision making. ... Smart doctors now encourage it. That will make a big difference," he says.  

To learn more:
- read the interview