2015 has been a challenging year for the healthcare IT community. Meaningful use changes were slow in coming, and the program has providers worrying about whether they can continue to participate. ICD-10 soaked up resources. Data breaches affected millions.

It’s given us a lot to cover this year. Like a lot of news, it’s not always good news. It’s challenging stuff. But it’s also a measure of how far the industry has come.

When I started covering the healthcare IT industry 21 years ago, the problems we’re wrestling with now would have seemed beyond the realm of possibility. In a sense, the fact we have these challenges are a measure of how far the industry has come in a relatively short period of time. Certainly, there’s much farther to go, but who can doubt that progress will continue to be made toward problems that seem vexing today?

So how far have we come? I challenged myself to think of some obscure and forgotten things that illustrate the progress over the last two decades. I hope these are things we can all reflect on and be thankful for.

I’m thankful for Moore’s Law. Technology is many times more powerful than it was 21 years ago, and at less cost. Much of what we do today, whether with databases, imaging or analytics, would not be possible without quantum advances in hardware.

I’m thankful for the Internet. It enables communication and information exchange that’s easy and affordable. I remember in 1995 writing that the cost to participate in a test of the Chicago CHIN would cost $100,000 per provider. There are many costs and challenges to information exchange today, but that level of cost and difficulty is not one of them.

I’m thankful physicians want to use computers. Only 10 or 15 years ago, physician resistance to using computers was a vexing problem. Pockets of resistance continue today, but open and substantial physician hostility toward the use of computers is no longer an issue.

I’m thankful for smartphones and other mobile devices. These tie into clinician acceptance of computers. At the minimum, powerful handheld devices provide a range of form factors that clinicians can choose to use.

I’m thankful for graphical user interfaces. Remember Windows 3.1? It was such an advance over MS-DOS in the early 1990s, but it wasn’t ready for prime time. We now take visually attractive and utilitarian interfaces for granted, and they’ve made our use of computers so much easier.

I’m thankful for connectivity. Whether it’s the Internet or networking in general, it’s so much easier to connect computers, and thus, to connect users. And network capacity is so much larger, also having grown exponentially.

I’m thankful for Wi-Fi. Check into a hotel in the 1990s, and maybe you could get lucky with a phone cord and your 14,400-bit modem. Now, we take high-speed wireless connections for granted, whether we’re at a McDonald’s or doing rounds in the hospital.

I’m thankful for computer file standards. OK, there’s a long way to go with some of the challenging health IT standards. But where would we be without jpegs, pdfs, wavs, docs and more? And we’re able to open these on almost any device, without even thinking about it.

I’m thankful for Outlook. Maybe our crazy busy lives make us nuts, but at least we can get to the same meeting appointment in an organized fashion.

I’m thankful for technologies that didn’t make it. Oh, don’t we each have our own collection of these in our basement drawers? My own personal favorite is my CrossPad, “the world’s first Portable Digital Notepad (PDN) and a product of the Pen Computing Group at A.T. Cross.” OK, I have two of them, and they’re sitting next to my Sharp Mobilon Tripad. I was just ahead of my time. Both could be available to the highest bidder on eBay.

I’m thankful for Jan. 20, 2004. For the healthcare industry, this was a magical date, when years of efforts resulted in a handful of words in a speech. That’s the day President Bush said these innocuous words in his State of the Union address: “By computerizing health records, we can avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs, and improve care.” Many in the industry doubted these simple words would be acknowledged by anyone in leadership anywhere. In late April of that year, President Bush expanded the challenge, calling for the widespread adoption of electronic health records in 10 years, among other steps. It validated years of efforts beforehand, and much of the industry’s efforts since.

I’m thankful for pioneering organizations. Whether it’s Intermountain HealthCare, Partners HealthCare, Geisinger Health System, the Cleveland Clinic or other pioneers, they pushed the envelope with emerging technology and nascent ideas to shine a light on what the healthcare industry could be.

I’m thankful for the dreamers who never gave up. I don’t know all their names, but they are the Bill Spooners, the Greg Waltons, the Rich Corrells, the John Glasers, the Bill Childs, the Larry Grandias, and countless others. They wrestled with bulky technology and balky organizations to advance the idea that information technology could play a role in healthcare.

I’m thankful for the early HIT vendors. Those early companies invested millions in hopes and dreams. They were led by visionaries, trying to convince a generally conservative industry to buy their products. Some were acquired, some have faded from memory. They worked with the technology at hand and followed their visions.

I’m thankful for my friends in the industry. Whether CIOs, association execs, media members or marketing reps, we’ve walked this path for years, and we’re all in this together.

That’s my list; let me know what’s on yours.

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