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With the new year in mind, a look back at hot health IT trends 20 years ago

As we jump into 2015, health IT professionals are familiar with the road ahead: Meaningful use debates, HIPAA audits, and EHR advances will all make headlines this year. And new technologies like wearable devices will push the boundaries of patient-centered care.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to briefly look back instead of forward — way back 20 years ago — to remember the IT-themed tech and trends that once grabbed attention in the medical field.

Back then, when the Internet was a tool only the cool kids used (Internet service providers had just started getting competitive), healthcare IT started a shift that can still be felt today. Previously, IT acted as an automated way to control healthcare costs. However, in 1994 and 1995, people began to instead consider IT as part of an approach to improve patient outcomes through technology.

Nowadays, that notion is leaping from providers to patients, thanks to wearable gadgets that measure vital signs and other health-related data.

Meanwhile, a system still in use debuted two decades ago: LOINC, or the Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes system, which standardizes electronic information going between laboratories and clinicians. LOINC developers clearly appreciated interoperability long before many of us did.

The system is hosted by the Regenstrief Institute, an informatics research organization in Indianapolis that recently released study results about patients who chose to withhold information in their medical records from some or all of their healthcare providers.

Finally, in 1995 some caregivers began to tote around personal digital assistants — PDAs, as we called them back then — to capture point-of-care data from patients. I remember writing about the potential hassles that wireless devices like PDAs and radio-frequency barcode readers might bring to telemetry systems in hospitals.

In the case of PDAs, although their technology was important, the devices hopped onto a more significant trend of testing at the patient bedside, rather than dragging a patient to the lab or other location. Smartphones and tablets eventually overtook PDAs, although they all share the common idea of a handheld, wireless device designed to give clinicians more options in the care units.

Speaking of smartphones, I sometimes wonder if the PDA’s history will repeat itself over the next 20 years. Will the features we all enjoy in modern phones transition to wearable devices or even implanted technology?

See you in 2035 to find out.

If you have any memories of other healthcare IT trends from 20 years ago, let me know in the comments box.

FYI, I culled much of my historical references in this blog from the websites of the Regenstrief Institute, Informatics and Nursing: Opportunities and Challenges (Fourth Edition), and

Scott Wallask is news director at SearchHealthIT. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_HighTech.