Changes in Healthcare IT
Knowledge Management

The ability to store and retrieve information external to the mind stimulated the greatest advancement in human knowledge.

Storing and retrieving information external to the mind, is a uniquely human activity. It is the foundation upon which all of our scientific and medical progress is built.

Gutenburg's perfection of movable type, preceded modern healthcare. Movable type allowed more people to store and retrieve information than ever before, and seeded the growth of medical knowledge.

The "Technical Century"

"The greatest technological revolution of the past century was not in information and communication and computing at all; it was in health."(1)

In 1899 the "Information Age" was already well under way.

In 1822, Charles Babbage proposed building a machine called the "Difference Engine" to automatically calculate mathematical tables. The Difference Engine was only partially completed when Babbage conceived the idea of another, more sophisticated machine called an "Analytical Engine". In 1876, only five years after Babbage's death, an obscure inventor called George Barnard Grant exhibited a "Difference Engine" of his own in the US.

In 1899 approximately 2,500 automobiles were manufactured. In the same year two bicycle mechanics, were making key discoveries about the requirements of controlled flight that would enable them to invent the airplane only 4 years later.

In the previous 20 years the number of electrical generating plants had grown from 1 to 2,000 in the US alone. In 1901 there was a telephone for every 10 homes in the US. A number that grew by leaps and bounds, and the instrument transformed the way people live and exchange information. The telephone accelerated the progress started by the telegraph, by knitting together the world into a vast interlocked web of people sharing information. Radio would appear within a generation accelerating the process even further.

In contrast the life expectancy in the US was still only 47. Today it is 77. A hundred years ago healthcare practitioners were just beginning to accept the Germ Theory of disease. Anesthesia and Disinfection were commonplace, although in a form not nearly as sophisticated as today, but beyond those advances much of healthcare was medieval. In the past century healthcare has changed beyond recognition. The list of accomplishments is staggering.

So, 100 years ago we didn't have an Internet or cell phones, but we did have telephones for instant communication; we didn't have 747's but we were learning to fly; we didn't have TV but almost anyone had access to newspapers and books. We didn't have modern healthcare, and here there is no "but". 100 years ago modern healthcare did not exist. It is fair to say that the greatest revolution of the past 100 years and into the foreseeable future, is in Health and not IT.

However it is also fair to say that with out the revolution in IT the revolution in Healthcare could never have occurred.

Technology Advances in Healthcare

Technology in direct patient care will continue to expand through the use of mobile computing devices and dramatically affect how healthcare is practiced in the future. These mobile computing devices will transform data into valuable information at the point-of-care. Nurses can help support the implementation of mobile computing devices that provide value to the practice of healthcare, and promote patient care delivery, related outcomes, and overall satisfaction.

The "Century of Health"

IT has facilitated all of the advancements in healthcare. And now the pace is picking up: mobile computing can only accelerate the pace of progress. The "Age of Health" is here, but it is dependent on the effective storage and retrieval of information at the point-of-care. Mobile computing is the Future of Healthcare.


Notes: (1) Frederick Allen, American Heritage of Invention & Technology, Winter 2000-Volume 15 /Number 3


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