In 1965 I graduated from a hospital-based school for Medical Record Librarians in Sydney, Australia and with a fellow graduate prepared a paper for presentation at the 3rd Australian Medical Record Conference. The title of the paper was the “International Growth of Medical Record Librarianship”.  We were not sure where to begin but with the help of our Director of Training, Betty James, who was in the future to be the first president of the international federation, we started by sending letters to 20 countries seeking information about their medical record systems and education of medical record workers.

We received answers from 17 Countries and were amazed to learn that all had some form of Education/Training in 1966.  We were delighted at the response and enjoyed working on the paper.

This was the beginning of my interest in our profession internationally.  I was able to attend the 5th International Medical Record Congress in Sweden in 1968 and have had the good fortune to attend every Congress since.

A little piece of history

As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the formation of the Federation I would like to look back to where it all began.  In 1948 there were three known national medical record associations, one in the United States of America, one in Canada and one in the United Kingdom.  In 1949 Elsie Royle, (later to become Elsie Royle Mansell) a medical record officer from Manchester, England, played a key role in initiating international awareness between medical record workers and eventually the establishment of an international federation.  With her commitment she was able to gain support from around the world and the First International Congress on Medical Records was held in 1952 in London, England with 309 participants from nine countries.

Although interest and enthusiasm remained another three international congresses were held before an International Federation was formed at the Fifth International Congress on Medical Records in Sweden in 1968.

Since then we have seen many changes and challenges. The original name International Federation of Medical Record Organizations (IFMRO) was changed to International Federation of Health Record Organizations (IFHRO) in 1976 and to the International Federation of Health Information Management Associations (IFHIMA) in 2010.  Although the name has been changed to reflect changes in the profession over the years, the main issues of concern have included professional recognition, lack of human resources, financial limitations, support for medical/health record workers in developing countries and the education of medical record/health information management personnel in both developed and developing countries.

Executive Committees/Boards were originally appointed for four years and changed to three years. These members work in an honorary capacity with full time paid employment elsewhere.  In most cases they are supported by their national association but unfortunately some national associations, although supportive of their representative, were not in the position to support them financially – particularly if they were from one of the developing countries.  Even in today’s world some committed members appointed by their associations may find it difficult to attend meetings, access the internet or correspond by e-mail.  It is important that these individuals are not left out.

In 2018 as we celebrate our 50th anniversary we should look to the future but not forget the past.  We should remember, with gratitude, all the people who worked to establish, develop and expand the Federation.  There were many ups and downs but also substantial developments and achievements, managed by people from different countries who believe in the success and future of international cooperation.  Further changes will undoubtably be made but hopefully the original underlying philosophy of the Federation will be maintained and strengthened.

What can we do in the future?

  • Look beyond our own work environment
  • Consider helping HIMs in developing countries
  • Join IFHIMA as an Associate member

Phyllis J Watson AM

IFHIMA Past President


Watson PJ (2007): The Story of IFHRO – An historical 0verview – 1949 – 2004.