Health-care information technology and genotyping technology are both advancing rapidly, creating new opportunities for medical and scientific discovery. The convergence of these two technologies is now facilitating genetic association studies of unprecedented size within the context of routine clinical care. As a result, the medical community will soon be presented with a number of novel opportunities to bring functional genomics to the bedside in the area of pharmacotherapy. By linking biological material to comprehensive medical records, large multi-institutional biobanks are now poised to advance the field of pharmacogenomics through three distinct mechanisms: (i) retrospective assessment of previously known findings in a clinical practice-based setting, (ii) discovery of new associations in huge observational cohorts, and (iii) prospective application in a setting capable of providing real-time decision support. This review explores each of these translational mechanisms within a historical framework.