UB Receives $1.5 Million Gift for Medical Informatics Chair

By Arthur Page

Release Date: January 20, 1993 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- One of the nation's first professorships in medical informatics has been established at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences through a $1.5 million gift in honor of the late Ira G. Ross by his widow, Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted Ross, M.D., a 1939 graduate of the medical school.

Dr. Olmsted is a practicing ophthalmologist and clinical professor of ophthalmology at the medical school. The endowed chair will be known as the Ira G. and Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted Ross Chair in Medical Informatics.

Ross, a distinguished aeronautical engineer, former president of Cornell Aeronautical Laboratories, later known as Calspan, and a dedicated Buffalo community leader, died January 3, 1991.

The chair in medical informatics will help the medical school integrate into the rapidly growing field of medical informatics, according to John Naughton, M.D., dean of the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Medical informatics focuses on the utilization of computers and related technologies in the acquisition and management of information in medical settings. It ranges from the maintenance of patient records to patient-outcome assessment. Medical informatics also includes the delivery of information to the site of physician-patient interaction -- whether in a hospital, office or clinic setting -- for purposes of decision-making, medical education, medical research and management of health-care costs.

UB President William R. Greiner noted that "with the kinds of possibilities that medical informatics offers, this field could very easily become the backbone of a whole new regional and national system of health care. By establishing the Ross Chair, Dr. Olmsted is helping UB advance on several fronts simultaneously.

"Her gift opens for our university a critical new area of research and knowledge, as well as an invaluable training opportunity in an emerging technology. The Ross Chair will also be at the center of new service efforts, as UB's medical faculty seek to apply information to health-care delivery in Western New York."

Greiner added, "As grateful as we are for Dr. Olmsted's generosity, we are even more indebted to her for her foresight. By endowing the Ross Chair, she not only establishes a fitting memorial to Ira Ross, but also helps shape the future of our medical school, our university and our community."

"Ira was a visionary, always looking decades ahead," Olmsted, his wife of 39 years, said. "With medical informatics the wave of the future, this chair, one of the first of its kind in the country, represents an appropriate tribute to him."

Ross, the grandson of a Methodist minister and son of a chemical engineer, was born in Morgantown, W.Va. He was educated at the University of Illinois, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering physics, and went on to become head of one of the nation's largest applied research organizations.

During the 1930s, he was manager of acoustical research for U.S. Gypsum, was an architectural acoustics consultant and served as director of research for Upson Company of Lockport. He became manager of flight research for Curtiss Wright Corporation in 1943, bringing to the company a sophisticated background in instrumentation and measurement.

When Curtiss Wright became Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in 1946, Ross joined the new organization and soon headed its flight research and wind tunnel departments, where he inaugurated aerodynamic and in-flight simulation techniques still used in testing commercial and military aircraft. In 1954, he was named executive vice president and director of the Laboratory, and from 1958 to 1969, served as its president. (In 1972, Cornell Lab converted to for-profit status and became Calspan Corporation.)

The use of medical informatics is not far off for Western New York hospitals. The School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences has taken a leadership role in the formation of the Western New York Health Sciences Consortium, which provides a unique opportunity to link electronically the medical school and its affiliated hospitals.

The development of an Information Systems Network will link, by computer, health-care facilities and physicians in Western New York and provide a national and international prototype for medical education and health care delivery, according to Thomas A. Riemenschneider, M.D., chair of the Western New York Health Sciences Consortium Information Systems Council, UB associate vice president for clinical affairs and associate dean of the UB medical school.

"Computers, telecommunications and related technologies are radically changing the ways in which information is acquired and managed in biomedical settings," said Dr. Riemenschneider. "Sophisticated engineering and computer technology is enabling physicians to access immediate information to enhance their ability to make good clinical decisions on behalf of their patients.

"The new Information Systems Network will place Western New York once again on the cutting edge of medical technology. The Ross Chair in Medical Informatics adds significantly to that impetus."