Marion J. Ball, dubbed the “mother of medical informatics” in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, was one of seven inaugural recipients of the Most Influential Women in Health IT Award, given by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) in December of 2016.
She has truly been a pioneer, achieving success in the IT field beginning in the 1960s, as a woman in a male-dominated field that was just beginning to take shape.
Born in South Africa to German ex-pats – her father was an international name in sports medicine, and her mother was a sports teacher and therapist (and both competed in the Olympics) – Dr. Ball came to the United States at the age of 12. Her father joined the University of Kentucky to develop a sports medicine program, and Dr. Ball later completed her undergraduate studies there in math and education. After working for a short time as a high school math teacher, she went on to earn her master’s degree in math from UK in 1965, where she then worked as a programmer and instructor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences, implementing an early computerized clinical lab system.
Dr. Ball joined Temple University in 1968 as the assistant director for medical computing activity, and was subsequently promoted to the role of director of medical computing. During this time, she earned her doctorate in medical education from Temple, as well. Dr. Ball spent almost 20 years at Temple, where she developed interdisciplinary courses in medical computing, in conjunction with medical records administration and nursing, and taught in the Departments of Family Practice, Medical Physics, and Medicine.
During her time at Temple, Dr. Ball was active outside of the institution, as well, including publishing her first books (two “trade” publications – How to Select a Computer System for the Clinical Laboratory and How to Select a Computerized Hospital Information System – as well as a children’s book entitled What is a Computer?). She also served on the National Library of Medicine’s Biomedical Library Review Committee and participated on one of the International Federation for Information Processing’s Technical Committees, which contributed to the creation of the International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA). Dr. Ball went on to chair the IMIA’s first conference on hospital information systems, which was held in her country of origin – South Africa.
In 1985, Dr. Ball transitioned from Temple to the University of Maryland, which was one of the first recipients of funding from the National Library of Medicine’s Integrated Advanced Information Management Systems (IAIMS) initiative. While there, Dr. Ball was a full professor, as well as a vice president and chief information officer for the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Law, and Social Work. In addition to implementing IAIMS, she integrated the Health Sciences Library and Information Services functions, and drove the establishment of a nursing informatics program. Dr. Ball became an honorary member of the Medical Library Association and served a term as the president of IMIA – during her term, the association created the Asian Pacific Association for Medical Informatics.
After 31 years, Dr. Ball left the academic world in 1996. She currently serves as a senior advisor for IBM’s Center for Computational Health, having previously served as a fellow with the IBM Center for Healthcare Management and as a vice president of clinical informatics strategies with Health Link, an IBM company. However, Dr. Ball does continue to teach; she is a professor emerita at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, an affiliate professor in the Division of Health Sciences Informatics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and an affiliate professor in the Department of Information Systems at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, as well as holding an appointment with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in the Department of Biomedical Informatics.
Over the past four decades, Dr. Ball has written and edited 27 books (including some of the core texts of health informatics used in nursing schools around the world) and over 250 journal publications and book chapters. She has received “book-of-the-year” awards from HIMSS and the American Journal of Nursing, and her nursing books have been translated into Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, German, Korean, and Polish. She is the co-editor of the 65-volume Springer series on health informatics, and serves on the editorial boards of a number of health informatics journals.
During her career, Dr. Ball has been a member of the Institute of Medicine, the National Library of Medicine’s Board of Regents, Health on the Net (as a founding board member), the American Medical Informatics Association Board, the International Medical Informatics Association (as its former president), the board of the College of Health Information Management Executives, the Health Information Management Systems Society Board (as a former member and vice chair), the American Health Information Management Association/Foundation of Record Education Board, the International Advisory Committee for the China Hospital Information Management Association, the Society for Computer Medicine (as its former president; SCM subsequently merged with SAMS to form AMSI), and the Microsoft Health Users Group (as a founding member).
Dr. Ball’s multiple successes in the field of health informatics have earned her numerous awards over the years, including: the Morris F. Collen Lifetime Achievement Award from ACMI/AMIA; the Award of Excellence from the International Medical Informatics Association (a lifetime achievement award); a Distinguished Service Award from AHIMA; HIMSS’s “50 in 50” award (the 50 most influential IT professionals over 50 years); honorary membership in Sigma Theta Tau International (the honor society of nursing); an honorary fellowship in the American Academy of Nursing; and a HIMSS Lifetime Membership Award for 30 years of service and major contributions to the field of health informatics.
Her primary areas of interest are patient safety, process engineering, change management, and clinical point of care initiatives in health care. She is a founding member of the TIGER (Technology Informatics Guiding Education Reform) initiative, which began as a grassroots effort in the nursing community to better prepare the clinical workforce to utilize technology and informatics to improve patient care, and is now part of HIMSS. And she’s not done yet – she continues to teach, advise, and publish, recognizing that there is still progress to be made.
Contributed by Holly Valovick – QLK