Doc Tom late in life“Doc Tom” Ferguson, the source of our Society for Participatory Medicine, died unexpectedly ten years ago this week, April 14, 2006. In the coming days we’ll run a series of posts remembering his work and vision.

Especially, we’re going to walk through the seminal document about this movement, the now-famous “e‑Patient White Paper,” a free download in the right sidebar of this site. Funded by Robert Wood Johnson’s Pioneer Portfolio, the White Paper was well underway at the time of Tom’s death; his friends and followers finished it, and published it a year later.

Tom was a true visionary: he saw that the internet had caused a fundamental shift that would make new things possible, and he correctly predicted what we should expect to see. Then he started spotting people doing what he foresaw, and brought them together to talk. More on them later.

For starters, consider this: Tom published this pair of pyramids, contrasting the difference between “industrial-age medicine” and “information-age healthcare.” Click to enlarge, and look at the difference – healthcare turned on its head:

Industrial Age triangle 1 - Slide88Information Age triangle 2 - Slide89.png

Tom foresaw that when we were enabled by unprecedented access to information – and to each other – a new “health economy” would become visible, including self-help networks like the patient communities that are so well known today, and medical professionals as facilitators and partners: participatory medicine.

And here’s why I say “visionary”: he foresaw it at the dawn of the World Wide Web – the very dawn.

Look in the fine print at bottom of these slides: Tom published them in January 1995, which means he authored them in 1994 – the same year the first popular browser, Netscape Navigator, was released, on the heels of the Mosaic browser a year earlier. (Wikipedia: History of the Web Browser)

Think about how many prognosticators you’ve heard talk in recent years about what every innovation will mean, and ask how many have panned out. And today’s prognosticators are building on an existing “e” world, where Tom was seeing something brand new … and it’s still happening today.

I wish I’d met him; I wish we had video of him. We don’t, but we can certainly do our part to remember his work.

Hashtag for this project: #doctom10.  More tomorrow.