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In the 1950s to 1960s, the US government sponsored a lot of computer projects, amongst which were those for the development of computer databases. A computer database is a collection of data that is used by computer applications and it can contain data on a wide range of subjects from product information to patient details.

A database management system (DBMS) is the layer of software that sits between the users and other computer software applications and the database itself. The DBMS is used for adding, removing and updating the data within the database.

E.F. Codd’s landmark paper – "A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks" in 1970 and P. Chan’s proposition for the Entity-Relationship (ER) model for database design gave rise the foundation blocks for Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMS).


A relational database is one in which the data has been organise into tables. Tables consist of tables and rows of data that are grouped by the same subject. The tables are then related back to each other when a request for data retrieval has been made by the RDBMS.

The introduction of the RDBMS was soon followed by the adoption of SQL (Structured Query Language), pronounced ‘S-Q-L’ or ‘sequel’, as an industry standard in the mid 1980s. SQL is the language for dealing with relational databases and was originally developed by IBM in the early 1970S. The language is now used to not only develop databases but to also provide its security.

The 1990s marked the introduction of the Object Oriented Database Management System (OODMS) prototype (An OODBMS is a database management system that treats and handles data as objects rather than tables). There was also an increase in the effort to introduce development tools, such as Oracle Developer and Visual Basic, to aid the rapid development of software applications that targeted databases.

The 1990s also marked the beginning of an era with an explosion of the Internet and the World Wide Web and with that can an increase in the demand for DBMS and database development tools as Internet companies sought out effective ways to acquire and deploy information on their websites.

Databases have been used in healthcare as back as they have been available. They form an integral part of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) and Health Information Systems (HIS). The National Library of Medicine, which contains about 90,000 bibliographic materials, developed a database in the 1970s called MEDLARS (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System) and its success led to the development of other health information databases such as MEDLINE, EMBASE and PubMed

DBMS also forms an integral part of data warehousing. A data warehouse is a repository containing aggregated information from various sources and it is optimised fro reporting and analysis. The data is aggregated as soon as it generated or at periodic stages and turned into high quality information with all the inconsistencies and differences resolved. That information can now be delivered to users at their request anytime, anywhere.

Data warehousing is now being used in healthcare to provide clinical and financial information. Data warehouse applications also being increasingly used in knowledge management to provide staff of healthcare organisations with appropriate channels of intellectual capital distribution, knowledge about the business and the industry at large, as well as sharing of results amongst of on going work and research. Pharmaceutical companies also use them for drug sales, marketing support and consumer information.


  • Cold Fusion – Developed by Macromedia, used for making Web-based applications.

  • dBase - Developed by dBASE Inc.

  • DB2 – Developed by IBM. Targets multiple platforms.

  • FileMaker Pro – Developed by FileMaker Inc, a subsidiary of Apple Computer Inc Targets multiple platforms.

  • Informix – Developed by IBM. Used for data warehousing and Web applications.

  • Ingres Enterprise Relational Database – Developed by Computer Associates. Multiple platform support.

  • Microsoft’s Access - Access was first released in 1992. An inexpensive yet powerful database solution for small-scale projects. Runs on the Windows platform.

  • Microsoft’s SQL Server –Originally developed by Microsoft and Sybase to run on IBM’s OS/2 platform but after parting ways with first IBM and then Sybase, now only supported by Microsoft.

  • Microsoft’s Visual FoxPro - Database development system used for quickly creating client, distributed client, client/server, and Web database applications.

  • MySQL – Free Open Source Software (FOSS) developed by MySQL AB in Finland.

  • Oracle - Developed by Oracle in 1977. Target various platforms.

  • PostgreSQL – Open source software developed in 1986 at the University of California.

  • Sybase – Developed by Sybase Inc, which first developing DBMS with Microsoft on it SQL Server but then parted ways to develop its own products.



International Medical Informatics Association
American Medical Informatics Association
UK Health Informatics Society
Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society

Knowledge Center
Biomedical Informatics
Health Informatics
Healthcare Technologies
Hospital Information Systems
Software Topics
Operating Systems
Database Management Systems
Electronic Medical Records
Decision Support Systems

Last Updated: 10 August 2006.

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