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April 14, 2006

Tom Ferguson, M.D.

Tom Ferguson, M.D. died April 14, 2006 at the UAMS medical center hospital in Little Rock Arkansas, where he was undergoing treatment for multiple myeloma.

Pioneering physician, author, and researcher Tom Ferguson studied and wrote about the empowered medical consumer since 1975 and about online health resources for consumers since 1987. In 1993 he organized the world's first conference devoted to computer systems designed for medical consumers. After attending Reed College, earning a Master's Degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University, and a medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine, he launched a prolific career in consumer focused medical writing as founder of Medical Self Care magazine.

From 1980 to 1996 he authored or co-authored over a dozen books and was section editor for health, medicine and self-care for the Whole Earth Catalogue.

Dr. Ferguson virtually led the movement to advocate informed self-care as the starting point for good health, and to promote a new kind of relationship between knowledgeable medical consumers and medical professionals. His goal was to encourage medical professionals to treat clients as equal partners in achieving better outcomes and change the entrenched practices of the traditional top-down hierarchy of the doctor-patient relationship. With the advent of broad access to the internet, Dr. Ferguson's long history of advocacy of information-empowered medical consumers positioned him to be a leading proponent of online health information resources.

Following his own philosophy, he survived fifteen years with multiple myeloma, far exceeding typical expectations. He relentlessly pursued strategies for both self-care and the newest research and experimental practices for controlling this aggressive cancer. During that time, between relapses and debilitating treatments, he led a migration of medical consumer information to the internet, lectured widely on the emerging field of "health informatics", and earned a global reputation as a true innovator and pioneer in the field. In 1999 he was one of four to be recognized as an "Online Health Hero", an award given by the Intel Corporation's Health Initiative Project.

In recent years, he has served as a Senior Research Fellow for Online Health at the Pew Internet and American Life Project in Washington D.C. and a consultant to the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. He is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Health Informatics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, a Senior Associate at Boston's Center for Clinical Computing, a medical computing think-tank associated with Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, and most recently joined the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences Center as an adjunct faculty where he initiated a patient centered quality improvement program at the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy.

Tom was born in Ross, California on July 8, 1943 but spent most of his childhood in Coos Bay, on the Oregon coast. He moved to Austin in 1983 when he married Meredith Mitchell Dreiss of Austin. He is survived by his wife, Meredith, his stepdaughter, Adrienne Dreiss from New York City, a brother Fergus Mclean from Eugene, Oregon, a sister, Kirpal Kaur Khalsa of Espanola, New Mexico, and his mother, Helen Williams Ferguson of Coos Bay, Oregon. His late father, Wallace Ferguson, was also from Coos Bay. He was a beloved uncle to over 30 nieces and nephews who adored his kind, easy spirit, making each one of them feel enormously special when they were with him.

His friends, colleagues and family will forever cherish the memory of his empathy towards others, his ebullient mind, and his courage, optimism and productivity during his long battle with cancer, which he refused to let rule his life. He will be greatly missed by Meredith's huge extended family, the Mitchell Squirrels. They will remember that Tom's keen powers of observation of the impulsive antics and chaotic social structure of squirrels gave him deep insights into the intricacies of squirrel behavior and earned him an honored place at the family's Thanksgiving feast of nuts, wild game, more nuts and fine red wine. A gathering to celebrate his life will be held Saturday, April 22nd at 6:30 p.m. For further information call: 512-282-9917. In lieu of flowers, donations to the "Patient Initiated Quality Improvement Program" at the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences will be greatly appreciated, in care of Janet Aronson, 4301 W Markham, Suite 776, Little Rock, Arkansas 72205.

Published in the Austin American-Statesman from 4/19/2006 - 4/22/2006.

To view many of the great memories he made with all of us, please visit here.