Marsden S. Blois, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., was a visionary in health informatics. Professor of medical information science and dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco, he worked to bring together medicine and information science. In recognition of his contributions to our field, Dr. Blois was elected to be the founding President of the American College of Medical Informatics.
His book, Information and Medicine (1984), provides us with the most comprehensive view of his work-work visible in his professional activities and publications. In his preface, he explains that he "began to teach a graduate course a few years ago dealing with some of the basic ideas of information science "because". . . there is an abundant literature on medical computing, and virtually none on medical information science as a science." (pp. xiii-xiv)
In his book, Blois turned to information science. He dealt with concepts ranging from theories of information, to the structure of descriptors and information processes. He brought the same analytical approach to the consideration of diseases and the clinical and diagnostic processes. As his work with the National Library of Medicine on a unified medical language attests, he was deeply interested in the creation and representation of medical information.
Blois saw all these issues, along with questions regarding the proper use of men and machines, as beginning “at a very high descriptive level” and not a concern of computer science. “If this concern is to be given a name at all,” he reasoned,
it must be regarded as concerning medical applications, and it is increasingly being referred to as “medical information science” in the United States, and as “medical informatics” in Europe. It will be the task of this new discipline to better understand and define the medical information processes … in order that appropriate activities will be chosen for computerization, and to improve the man-machine system. (p. 234)
A master informatician, Blois remained devoted to medicine, which he judged to be “the enterprise offering us the greatest opportunity (and assigning us the heaviest of responsibilities) for describing the nature of man in all the interrelated levels of his complexity” (p. 255). He was always willing to take on these responsibilities.
Those of us privileged to work with him knew him as more than a respected colleague. He was always retiring and modest and gave the gift of genuine friendship. We have lost a beloved teacher, mentor, and friend, a member of our extended family.
Written by Marion Ball