Warner Slack first developed a prototype electronic medical record linked to a computer in 1965 while a resident in neurology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

One of the earliest developers of electronic health records and a proponent of involving patients directly in their own care long before digital healthcare was even a concept has died.

Warner Slack, a Harvard Medical professor, a member of the division of clinical Informatics, department of Medicine and department of psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and co-president of the Center for Clinical Computing in Boston, has died at age 85 from lung cancer.

Warner Slack

Slack first developed a prototype electronic medical record linked to a computer in 1965 while a resident in neurology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “In an age before the internet, big Data and artificial intelligence, Dr. Slack was among the first physicians in the world to envision the essential role that computers could play in medicine and healthcare delivery,” the Slack family posted in an obituary featured on WBUR.org, the website for Boston public radio. “Dr. Slack became intrigued with the possibility that computers could directly ‘interview’ patients, gaining detailed information and valuable insight that could help physicians better treat them.”

lack also was the first physician to author an article on the role of computers and doctors for the New England Journal of Medicine. “The results of that first trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that patients enjoyed interacting with the computer, and that the resulting medical histories were more detailed and accurate than those resulting from physician-patient interviews,” the obituary says.

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In addition to his involvement with electronic medical records, Slack was also an early backer of patient-driven healthcare. “His 1977 article ‘The Patient’s Right to Decide,’ published in the British journal The Lancet, put forth a then-radical idea of ‘patient power’—encouraging patients and physicians alike to overturn the traditionally paternalistic nature of healthcare,” the obituary says. “Patients, Dr. Slack believed, should play a crucial part in determining their own care. Their insight, he often said, was ‘the least utilized resource in healthcare.’”

Until recent times, Slack was still involved with digital healthcare. In 2001, he authored Cybermedicine, a book foreshadowing the use of the internet, electronic medical records and healthcare and was an active participant in OpenNotes, a web tool built by an organization that lets patients read doctor notes after an office visit or procedure, as part of its digital healthcare portal.

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