Skip to content Skip to navigation


October 1, 1998
by Marion J. Ball and Judith Douglas
| Reprints

Medical informaticists--1,351 from 48 countries--gathered in Seoul, South Korea, in August at the ninth MedInfo Congress, to explore "Global Health Networking: A Vision for the Next Millennium." MedInfo is the triennial meeting of the International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA) and the 56 national informatics societies that make up its membership.

The vision set forth at MedInfo ’98 included a focus on managing patient care through networks that use synergies between Internet capabilities and computer-based patient records (CPR). Global changes in patient care were reflected by the increasing use of the term "electronic health record" and, within Europe, the term "shared care."

Despite cultural difficulties and differences, there is clear progress toward both of these concepts within the global community. In one workshop, attendees from around the world reported progress in these two areas and highlighted other areas, such as user acceptance, organizational development and system security, that will assume greater significance as networking electronic records becomes more common. Despite demonstrable advances in healthcare IT, workshop faculty and those attending the session agreed that the concept of the CPR still lacks definition and, therefore, remains an elusive goal.

In another perspective on networking, a panel of global IT experts focused on the Internet. Jan van Bemmel, editor of the IMIA Yearbook and a professor in the Department of Medical Informatics at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, examined how the Internet is transforming healthcare. As representatives of the Geneva-based Health On the Net (HON) Foundation, Ron Appel, with the molecular imaging and bioinformatics laboratory at Geneva University, Switzerland, and Jean-Raoul Scherrer, director of the Department of Medical Informatics at Geneva University, described the development and use of an Internet code of conduct, a kind of "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" for online medical information. Appel and Scherrer also examined two new search engines--MedHunt and MARVIN, the Multi-Agent Retrieval Vagabond on Information Networks. MARVIN is HON’s health sites retrieval robot.

Other leading healthcare informaticists from around the world moderated sessions highlighting other healthcare IT concerns, such as decision support, knowledge representation and telemedicine (known as "telematics" in Europe). Among the speakers were Edward Shortliffe, professor of medicine and medical informatics at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., and Ilias Iakovidis, with the European Commission DGXII, telematics applications for health in Brussels, Belgium, each of whom gave his perspective on the movement toward electronic health records. Warner Slack, assistant professor at Harvard University in Boston, spoke about empowering patients through computing, or what he calls "cybermedicine." Brian Hayes, from the Department of Epidemiology and biostatistics and the Department of Medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, set forth the concept of "evidence-based informatics," using informatics principles and tools to harness research information for patient care.

MedInfo’s scientific program, chaired by Charles Safran, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at Beth Israel Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston, and Patrice Degoulet, professor in the Department of Medical Informatics at Broussais University Hospital in Paris, featured 262 scientific papers covering topics from decision support and telematics to security and human computer interaction. Of these papers, 70 specifically addressed the conference theme of global health networking, with the key focus on networked patient management. More than half of MedInfo’s 22 workshops and panels also addressed the conference theme, touching on telematics and other global health issues. These workshops were complemented by 20 pre-conference tutorials, 238 posters and a scientific exhibition with 120 vendors from 15 countries.

Local medical informaticists hosted the meeting, including: Program Chair Chang-Soon Koh, professor and president at Gaachon Medical College in Inchor, South Korea; Secretary General Han-Ik Cho, professor in the Department of Health Administration at Shin Heung College in Kyungki-do, South Korea; Subcommittee Chair Taiwoo Yoo, professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Seoul National University College of Medicine; and Vice Chair Jung Ho Park, director of the Department of Nursing at Ewha Women’s University, Mokong Hospital in Seoul. Lee Hee Ho, the first lady of South Korea, and Jong-Teh Li, chairman of the federation of the Korean information industry, delivered the opening addresses.

The conference closed with IMIA President Otto Rienhoff, professor in the Division of Medical Informatics at Georg August University in Gottingen, Germany, presenting the gavel to The Netherlands’ Jan van Bemmel. Van Bemmel will preside over MedInfo 2001 to be held in London and hosted by the British computer society.

Healthcare Informatics editorial board members Marion J. Ball and Judith V. Douglas participated in MedInfo. Both are Baltimore-based consultants with First Consulting Group and members of AMIA and IMIA.