David Ingram

Published On


Page Range

pp. 325–424


  • English

Print Length

100 pages

5. Information and Engineering—

The Interface of Science and Society

  • David Ingram (author)
Engineering is positioned at the interface of science and society. In health care, it connects the creators, commissioners and users of information systems, shaping and navigating pathways leading to success or failure in supporting the quality and improvement of services. This chapter celebrates engineers, with stories of their focus, skill and dogged persistence. I draw first on Samuel Smiles (1812–1904) and his 1881 book, Men of Invention and Industry, a wonderful account of engineering innovation through the English Industrial Revolution, to draw parallels with innovation in the information revolution of our age.

The chapter associates the kinds and groupings of data that are captured, processed, stored and retrieved with the devices and systems employed to do this. It describes how these have evolved, from the remote village life of my childhood, through school and university days, to my desktop today, in my now global village life, and the Cloud of computational resource that it immediately connects me with. It highlights how characteristics and limitations of devices and evolving computer programming paradigms have channelled both theoretical and practical developments, and determined their usefulness. It connects the discussion of models and simulations in the preceding chapter with data models, information models and knowledge models of today.

The chapter tracks the parallel evolution of software and algorithm, from early empirical methods closely aligned to the underlying machinery of the computer, to programming languages based on theory of data and algorithm, tuned to different domains of application, seeking tractable solutions for the computational challenges they pose. It concludes with a discussion of the standardization of computer systems and methods and the transformational infrastructure of the Internet and World Wide Web. The closing reflection, which concludes Part One of the book and sets the scene for Part Two and Part Three, looks towards a new interface of science and society, as the anarchic transition through the Information Age leads into a reinvention of health care supported by care information systems construed and sustained as a public utility.


David Ingram


David Ingram’s career from 1967 spanned posts in industry, the NHS and University Medical Schools. After undergraduate physics at Oxford and several years in the medical engineering industry, he studied computer science and completed doctoral research on the mathematical modelling of biological systems, at University College London. His first academic post was at The Medical College of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, from 1975, where he was appointed Professor of Medical Informatics in 1990. From 1995-2011, he was the founding Director of the UCL Centre for Health Informatics and Multiprofessional Education (CHIME). David participated as partner and reviewer in UK Research Council, NHS, national e-Science and EU Health Informatics programmes and projects, including leading the EU GEHR Project (1991-94). This laid the foundations for the ISO-adopted openEHR specifications for a novel, vendor and technology neutral method for standardising the design of electronic health records, now being taken forward internationally by the openEHR.Foundation, of which he is the Founding President and Chairman of the Board of Governors. He is a founding Trustee of the OpenEyes Foundation, which is developing and marketing opensource software for ophthalmology, now providing the care record for 40% of UK patients. In retirement since 2010, he is focused on keeping well – eg by learning and using a new language, tracking lively grandchildren, following new physics, and learning to dance properly! Recently, he has become active in promoting a novel new technology to provide prescription glasses at very low cost for the developing world, where their lack causes extreme hardship.