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Title Computer Processing of Medical Data by Variable-Field-Length Format
Author(s) Julius Korein, MD; Leo J. Tick, PhD; Max A. Woodbury, PhD; Lee D. Cady, MD; Albert L. Goodgold, MD; and Clark T. Randt, MD
Source JAMA, Vol. 186, No. 2, Pages 132-138
Publication Date Oct. 12, 1963
Abstract The variable-field-length format has many advantages over other methods which are presently being used to apply computer technology to problems of storage, retrieval, and analysis data in clinical medicine. The method is oriented toward the physician and adds little to his burden of recording information. All types of alphabetic and numerical data may be processed by the computer in this format which is flexible and adaptable and can be enlarged or modified to handle almost any type of clinical information. Much less time and effort are consumed in transforming data into a form that can be utilized by the computer, as compared to previous methods. The possibilities for retrieval and analysis of data are extensive.

[The gist of this article is a description of the then-innovative concept of free text fields and their use in a database to capture descriptive information about a patient's problems, in contrast to the then-popular database methods which essentially consisted of manually translating the patient record into a set of fixed-length diagnosis and procedure codes. It's interesting that at the time this article was written, the techniques and algorithms for searching and indexing free text efficiently were apparently not yet fully worked out, and they are presented (in this article) as a cutting-edge problem in computer science.]

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