Dr. Ruth Dayhoff was a pioneering physician in medical computing and digital imaging. A lifelong photographer, she worked with early computers while in high school in the 1960s. At the time, there were very few women in significant positions with information systems, but her mother, Dr. Margaret Dayhoff, is considered the “Mother of Bioinformatics”. Her father, Dr. Edward Dayhoff, was a pioneer builder of household computers.

Ruth Dayhoff graduated in three years with Summa Cum Laud in Mathematics from the University of Maryland and studied Medicine at Georgetown University. She co-authored the MUMPS PRIMER while a medical student. Johnson, M. and Dayhoff, R. “MUMPS Primer.” MDC 1/11, MUMPS Development Committee, 1975.

After medical school, Dr. Dayhoff did a variety of residencies in clinical pathology and worked on information systems at Johns Hopkins, The Veterans Administration, and Georgetown.

Dr. Dayhoff was a pioneer in every aspect of medical computing. She was an original corporate founder of the Symposium on Computer Applications in Medical Care (1978) and a founding Fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics (1983). She was also executive director of the Mumps Users Group.

Dr. Dayhoff had married Vincent Brannigan while a medical student, and in 1983 and 1985, they had two daughters. Working at home on many image-related medical projects, Dr. Dayhoff saw the desirability of integrating images fully into medical records. What was lacking in the early 1980s was suitable hardware.

In 1985, when Ruth Dayhoff conceived what became Vista Imaging, no one had even suggested nationwide integrated imaging systems. As the equipment became available, she used her understanding of medicine, mathematics, computer science, and photography to conceptualize a radical change in electronic medical records. She ordered the first Image Capture Board created for PCs, and it arrived in 1985, a few weeks after the birth of her second child.

In 1985, working at home with two small children, she converted ideas to reality. She created a fully integrated low-cost medical imaging workstation and a national integrated imaging system plan, building on the VA’s nascent effort in electronic medical records.

The “barely transportable” workstation used a Compaq Deskpro Computer, the TrueVision Image capture board, a JVC analog camera, and a small color RCA television to display images. It ran on the MUMPS computer language, which Dayhoff determined was suitable for networked images.

The 1986 second prototype was more easily portable using the same elements packaged in a Compaq “suitcase.”

Dr. Dayhoff demonstrated her system to the VA, and they accepted it for development. A third prototype was built in 1987 and connected to a variety of imaging equipment. With a small but growing team, Dr. Dayhoff created what became known as the Vista Imaging System. She was the national project leader for Vista Imaging for almost 20 years.

Dr. Dayhoff personally reviewed the suitability of the images the system could handle for every medical application. Different specialties had different needs, and large images had storage and transmission issues. As both a physician and a computer expert, she had the confidence of both the technical and medical communities. They even gave her a rubber stamp that said: “APPROVED BY DR RUTH.”

Over 20 years, Vista Imaging was implemented throughout the VA in medical specialties and in hospitals, clinics, and telemedicine. It is also used in several foreign countries.

Based on her work in Imaging, Dr. Dayhoff was selected by the National Library of Medicine as one of the women physicians who “Changed the face of medicine”. She was the only one selected for computer systems.

In 2010, Dr. Dayhoff was appointed as Director of Digital Imaging for the VA. However, she was diagnosed with a severe neurological illness and retired in 2012.

The Dr. Ruth Dayhoff award is designed to recognize both her contributions to medical imaging and her support and encouragement of women to continue to change the face of medicine. She worked tirelessly to ensure that women with families and family responsibilities were not left behind.