Donald A.B. Lindberg M.D., 85 — a pioneer in medical informatics, an honoree in medicine, sciences and the arts and the Director Emeritus of the National Library of Medicine within the U.S. National Institutes of Health — died Aug. 17 from head injuries after a fall at his home.
Dr. Lindberg was a professor of medicine at the University of Missouri and lived in Columbia from 1960 to 1984.
After he left MU, Dr. Lindberg was NLM’s director for 31 years, from 1984 to 2015.
He was the founding director of the White House High Performance Computing and Communications Program from 1992 to 1995.
Dr. Lindberg also was the U.S. National Coordinator for the G-7 Global Healthcare Applications Project within the Global Information Infrastructure Initiative from 1996 to 2000.
At NLM, Dr. Lindberg oversaw the digitization of Index Medicus into PubMed, which provides free internet access to research published by international, refereed medical journals.
UMLS integrates diverse biomedical vocabularies, which enables searchable terms and fosters interoperability among computer systems. Dr. Lindberg also supervised the free use of clinical terminology standards for electronic health records, as well as the diffusion of specialized resources in diverse fields including toxicology, health services research, public health, consumer health, disaster and emergency response and the history of medicine.
At HPCC, Dr. Lindberg (and the members of his team) helped coordinate the technical standards for then-new high-speed digital communication networks (that expanded information technology and the Internet’s viability as a mass medium).
Dr. Lindberg’s medical informatics peers often described him as a self-reflective disciplinary giant, who was incisive about health care, federal governmental issues and politics — with a sense of humor. A boating enthusiastic, Dr. Lindberg once was asked at a professional meeting what it was like to be the helmsman of NLM.
Dr. Lindberg (who was NLM’s director at the time) responded: “My (earliest) mental model of (directing NLM), really, was something like the Queen Mary — you know, (captaining a big ship that was) putting out to sea. I was thinking that I could walk out on the deck once in a while and say, like: ‘Mr. Smith, take her to point starboard.’ Whereas in fact, it was more like being en route on the (Washington area) Beltway in rush hour. In other words, if you don’t do something pretty alert every four or five minutes, you’ll drive the … thing off the highway. And that was a big surprise to me. In other words, the number of opportunities to destroy the institution were very much larger than I thought of initially. So, (my original) model of just calm and cool at the wheel was not right at all ... .”
Dr. Lindberg was the author of three books (“The Computer and Medical Care,” “Computers in Life Science Research” and “The Growth of Medical Information Systems in the United States”) and more than 200 academic publications.
He served as an editor and editorial board member of nine publications including the Journal of the American Medical Association. A frequent speaker, Dr. Lindberg delivered more than 50 invited and named lectures on four continents during the 21st century’s first decade.
To establish an oral history dimension within NLM’s Native Voices websites and exhibition, Dr. Lindberg interviewed more than 100 Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian physicians, leaders, healers, clergy and medical students.
Dr. Lindberg was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Academy of Health Sciences Informatics.
Dr. Lindberg also was a Fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics, received the College’s Morris F. Collen M.D. Award of Excellence in 1997 and was the first president of the then-nascent American Medical Informatics Association.
Dr. Lindberg held recent medical faculty appointments at the University of Maryland and the University of Virginia. A board-certified pathologist, Dr. Lindberg received his M.D. from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1958 and his A.B. from Amherst College in 1954.
He is survived by his wife, Mary Musick Lindberg; brother, Charles Frank Lindberg (Oregon); sons, Donald Allen Bror Lindberg II (Indiana) and Jonathan Edward Moyer Lindberg (Oregon); daughters-in law, Amy Leigh Frank Lindberg (Oregon) and Kelly McGee Lindberg (Washington); and grandchildren, Frances Marie Musick Lindberg (Washington) and Christopher Martin Jurgen Lindberg (Oregon).
A memorial service for Dr. Lindberg is planned in the future; the family asks donations to go to Montgomery County Hospice (www.montgomeryhospice.org).