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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dr. Tom Ferguson, e-health Pioneer, Has Died


In April 2004 an important persona in health care social media passed on. I thought it a timely subject for a Sunday morning.

John M. Grohol, PsyD  Chief Editor and founder of PsychCentral  writes about Tom from a personal perspective, as opposed to those of us who read him via his internet blog and other activities.

Tom Ferguson


This face is familiar to early bloggers in the health field. Tom is an original visionary in what the internet meant to everyone in healthcare and all the other places we see on the world wide web.

He originated in the early 1990s around the time that web browsers came into being. Prior to that posting or reading on the world wide web was done with archaic commands (http)  (ftp) which are now integrated seemlessly into web browsers.

Back in the early 1990′s we were both thinking about how the Internet was changing the roles of doctor and patient.

Thriving online self-help support communities available (yes, this was before the Web became popular) where tens of thousands of people went online everyday and offered self-help support and care to one another.

Was this the seeding of what we now know as social media in medicine?

He thought it was amazing people were already harnessing the power of online technology connections to bring it to online human connections where the technology simply faded into the background. He was the first doctor I knew who ever spoke so plainly about the future of healthcare, where he envisioned empowered patients taking care far more into their own hands, and doctors acting more as professional guides to help along the way.

He authored a series of white papers about the new revolution in health, but which morphed into a book by the time they were completed. The white papers were entitled, “e-Patients: How They Can Help Us Heal Healthcare,” the white papers turned into a book that will eventually be published with ideas on how ordinary people can help fix healthcare in America.

He and others talked about the new breed of “e-patients,” and where ideas percolated such as each person having their own health “dashboard” would be invaluable to an individual living healthier, better lives. The vision was limitless.

He was one of the pioneers in e-health, but unfortunately most of his thinking was just too far ahead of what a business could actually market or sustain. Despite that his seed took root and eventually has bloomed. 


Besides, how can you build a business around an empowered consumer patient, when all of the power in the healthcare system in America was in the hands of the all-knowing doctors and the insurance companies? But that never stopped him from trying.

Today our patients are more empowered with social media, advocacy groups and the idea of “patient centric medicine”.

Finally, perhaps if physicians and others had come together with a unified face the outcome of health care for all would not be so adversarial.

After all, the physician and the patient have the same goal….good health.

In the 1990s as the business model for medicine was  beginning to change, only a few adapted, the majority were left behind.

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