Category Archives: Technology

Jul 28 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 28

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Study: EHRs Don’t Increase the Risk for Medicare Fraud
The use of electronic health records (EHRs) does not increase the risk of Medicare fraud, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Schools of Information and Public Health and the Harvard School of Public Health. In the study, scheduled to be published in the journal Health Affairs, researchers analyzed longitudinal data to determine whether U.S. hospitals that recently adopted EHRs also saw increases in the severity of patients’ conditions and payments from Medicare; they determined that adopters and non-adopters saw rates increase approximately equally. "There have been a lot of anecdotes and individual cases of hospitals using electronic health records in fraudulent ways. Therefore there was an assumption that this was happening systematically, but we find that it isn't," said Julia Adler-Milstein, U-M assistant professor of information, as well as an assistant professor of health management and policy in the U-M School of Public Health. Read more on technology.

Fist Bumps May Be the Best Greeting for Reducing Germ Transmission
Want to meet society’s hand-to-hand greeting expectation while also reducing the transmission of germs? Try a fist bump. Researchers from the Institute of Biological, Environmental, and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom used a germ-covered glove test to determine that handshakes transmit nearly twice as many bacteria as high-fives, which in turn transmit more bacteria than fist bumps. The study in the American Journal of Infection Control determined that duration and grip of a physical greeting also increased the number of bacteria transmitted. “Adoption of the fist bump as a greeting could substantially reduce the transmission of infectious diseases between individuals,” said author, David Whitworth, PhD. “It is unlikely that a no-contact greeting could supplant the handshake; however, for the sake of improving public health we encourage further adoption of the fist bump as a simple, free, and more hygienic alternative to the handshake.” Read more on infectious disease.

Fear a Greater Motivator than Data When it Comes to Using Sunscreen
Fear over developing skin cancer is a larger motivator for people’s usesof sunscreen than actual data that quantifies their risk, according to a new study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. Researchers analyzed data on approximately 1,500 people with no history of skin cancer, finding that for people who reported “never” using it and those who reported “always” using it, worry was a greater factor than education about risk, and the greater the worry, the more likely the use. “Most health behavior studies don’t account for the more visceral, emotional reactions that lead people to do risky behaviors, like eat junk food or ignore the protective benefits of sunscreen,” says Marc Kiviniemi, MD, lead researcher and assistant professor of community health and health behavior in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions. “This study is important because most of what we do in public health communications focuses on spreading knowledge and information. By not addressing emotions, we are potentially missing a rich influence on behavior when interventions do not address feelings.” Read more on cancer.

Jun 24 2014
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Back to the Future for Medical Schools: New Ideas Aim to Revolutionize a Doctor’s Education

During this week’s Spotlight: Health at the annual Aspen Ideas Festival, Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, MD, will be talking about the future of academic medicine. The topic has received a great deal of attention recently, including a white paper from the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and a pilot program from the American Medical Association (AMA) to give $1 million each to eleven medical schools redesigning their teaching programs—many of which include a focus on prevention, wellness and population health.

Teamwork is a recent and critical emphasis at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, said Cosgrove in a conversation with NewPublicHealth ahead of the Aspen conference.

“When a lot of us went to medical school we were all taught to be rugged individuals, and so [now] we’re trying to teach teamwork...at the very beginning of health care education,” he said. To that end, instruction at the medical school now emphasizes team-based learning and the students will begin doing some of their work with nursing and dental students in the same physical facility “so we begin to break down the silos that are going on right now and encourage team play.”

The 11 medical schools that received the recent AMA grants were chosen from among 119 schools that submitted proposals. “Their bold, transformative proposals [are] designed to close the gaps between how medical students are trained and how health care is delivered,” said former AMA President Jeremy A. Lazarus, MD, when the AMA awarded the grants last year. Among the winners:

  • The Alpert Medical School of Brown University, which has proposed establishing a dual MD-MS degree program in primary care and population health. A clerkship during the third year of medical school will integrate care of the individual patient and population health, and the fourth year will include population health course content and require a Master's thesis. The admissions process will include required interviews with stakeholders and patients.
  • The University of California-Davis School of Medicine is partnering with Kaiser Permanente to create the Accelerated Competency-based Education in Primary Care (ACE-PC) program, which will require all students to work in the Kaiser Health system so that they can learn by experiencing the patient-centered medical home model. Changes to curriculum include population management, chronic disease management, quality improvement, patient safety, team-based care and preventive health skills, with a special emphasis on diverse and underserved populations.

The eleven schools won’t be working in silos, either. Susan Skochelak, MD, the AMA’s group vice president for medical education, told NewPublicHealth that the initiative was designed “very specifically to bring the schools together in a consortium, because we wanted to disseminate the best practices rapidly.” 

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Jun 9 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 9

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NIH Researchers Publish Review of Key Marijuana Adverse Health Effects
As more states consider legalizing marijuana, researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—a division of the National Institutes of Health—have published a review of adverse health effects of the drug, including impaired driving. The review was published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine and the study authors consider a number of key concerns including:

  • Rising marijuana potencies
  • Possible health consequences of secondhand marijuana smoke
  • Long-term impact of prenatal marijuana exposure
  • According to the reviewers, research suggests that marijuana impairs critical thinking and memory functions during use and that these deficits persist for days after using
  • A long-term study showed that regular marijuana use in the early teen years lowers IQ into adulthood, even if users stopped smoking marijuana as adults.

“It is important to alert the public that using marijuana in the teen years brings health, social, and academic risk,” said lead author and NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, MD. NIDA offers additional information on the consequences of marijuana here. Read more on substance abuse.

Social Media is a Largely Untapped Communications Tool for Health Policy Researchers
As social media use continues to expand, it also presents a growing opportunity for health policy researchers to communicate with both the public and policy makers. However, few of these researchers appear to be using social media to the best of its potential in this field, according to a new study in the journal Health Affairs. The study, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, examined 325 health policy researchers, finding that only 14 percent of participants reported tweeting and only 21 percent noted blogging about their research in the past year. Many cited fears that social media would not be compatible with their research, the creation of professional risks and the lack of respected it is given by their peers or their academic institutions as obstacles to social media use. “Historically, the communication gap between researchers and policy makers has been large,” concluded the authors. “Social media are a new and relatively untested tool, but they have the potential to create new communication channels between researchers and policy makers to help narrow that gap.” Read more on technology.

Study: Many Preschool-aged Children Spending Too Much Time in Front of TVs, Computers
Many three- and four-year-olds are spending more than twice the recommended amount of time—two hours—in front of computers and television screens, according to a new study in the journal Child Indicators Research. Utilizing data on 2,221 preschool-aged children from the 2007 Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey, researchers found that 55.7 percent of children had a television in their bedroom and 12.5 percent had high home screen time, defined as more than four hours each weekday. They also found that 56.6 percent of children had access to a computer at home and 37.5 percent had used it on the last typical weekday. In addition, 49.4 percent of children used a classroom computer for more than one hour each week and 14.2 percent played computer games at school for more than five hours each week. “This research should be used as a foundation for additional studies-- particularly those that look at educational screen time versus entertainment screen time,” said Erica Fletcher, a PhD student at Ohio State’s College of Public Health and lead on the project. “It’s a critical time to dive deeper into that. Since the data were collected, devices with screens like tablets and smart phones have become more affordable and are increasingly being used in the classroom. That has helped narrow the economic ‘digital divide’ on accessibility.” Read more on pediatrics.

Jun 3 2014
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Disaster Alerts at the Speed of Sound

Millions of people have now seen their phone shake and heard it wail with news of an impending tornado or other disaster. Two years ago the wireless industry rolled out a free service known as wireless emergency alerts, and wireless carriers representing more than 98 percent of subscribers agreed to participate.

People with older phones, however, may not be able to access the alerts. Brian Josef, general counsel for the CTIA—The Wireless Association in Washington, D.C., recommends checking for the capability when buying a new phone and. For your current phone you can check with your carrier’s customer service office to see whether you automatically get the alerts.

People who can’t receive the texts, or who want a double layer of information, can sign up with local emergency management offices and get alerts via phone, text, email  and in some cases Twitter—although sessions at the recent Preparedness Summit in Atlanta indicated that while Twitter is growing, it is still not used by many local and state health departments. Check the bottom of your health department home page to find the Twitter handle, if there is one.

Josef also points out that you may find that a neighbor got an alert and you didn’t—but that’s because the alerts are geo-targeted. If you and your neighbor were a few miles away from each other when an alert went out, only the one in harm’s way would get pinged.

And if you’re in the market for preparedness apps, the American Red Cross and the National Hurricane Center have free apps that provide alerts and help you track storms.

But the apps won’t do you much good if your phone loses its charge. Preparedness experts recommend keeping a charged extra battery and portable charger on hand, and some emergency radios also include phone/device chargers.

Other tips to conserve your smartphone battery, according to Mary Clark, Chief Marketing Officer of the mobile technology company Syniverse, include:

  • Reduce the brightness of your screen
  • Close unnecessary apps
  • Use text messages to communicate with friends and family
  • Send an initial text to those most important detailing your plans
  • Turn off unneeded options such as Wi-fi and Bluetooth
Jun 3 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 3

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FDA Initiative Gives Developers Easy Access to Public Health Data
A new online initiative from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), openFDA, will give mobile application creators, web developers, data visualization artists and researchers access to the agency’s vast public health datasets in order to streamline the creation of their own applications. The structured, computer-readable format allows researchers to determine what types of data they want to search and how they want to present that data to end-users. “The openFDA initiative leverages new technologies and methods to unlock the tremendous public data and resources available from the FDA in a user-friendly way,” said Walter S. Harris, the FDA’s chief operating officer and acting chief information officer. “OpenFDA is a valuable resource that will help those in the private and public sectors use FDA public data to spur innovation, advance academic research, educate the public, and protect public health.” Read more on technology.

Study: 24 Million U.S. Youth Exposed to E-cigarette Advertisements
Unlike with traditional cigarettes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the marketing of e-cigarettes unless they are advertised as a smoking cessation aid. As a result, e-cigarette companies currently market their products to an audience that includes 24 million youth, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers determined that, from 2011 to 2013, youth exposure to e-cigarette advertisements climbed 256 percent and young adult exposure climbed 321 percent. They also determined that approximately 76 percent of the youth exposure came from advertisements on cable networks. Read more on tobacco.

Study: Global Investment in Midwives Needed to Save the Lives of Mothers, Newborns
Investments in midwifery could save the lives of millions of mothers and newborns, according to a new report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The report determined that 73 African, Asian and Latin American countries experienced 96 percent of the world’s maternal deaths, 91 percent of stillbirths and 93 percent of newborn deaths, with lack of access to midwives a significant contributing factor. Those countries have only 42 percent of the world’s midwives, nurses and doctors.

  • Among the report’s recommendations:
  • Increased access to preventive and supportive care from a collaborative midwifery team
  • Immediate access to emergency services when needed
  • Completing post-secondary education
  • And, from a broader perspective, women should delay marriage, have access to healthy nutrition and receive four pre-birth care visits

"Midwives make enormous contributions to the health of mothers and newborns and the well-being of entire communities. Access to quality health care is a basic human right. Greater investment in midwifery is key to making this right a reality for women everywhere," said Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director, in a release. Read more on maternal and infant health.

May 15 2014
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Future of Public Health: Q&A with Margo Klar, PhD Candidate at the University of Florida

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Future of Public Health is an ongoing series focused on the emerging faces in the world of public health. We spoke with Margo Klar, MPH, a PhD candidate in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Florida’s College of Public Health & Health Professions, about what helped lead her to the field, her Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded work in maternal health, and where she hopes to go from here.

NewPublicHealth: What encouraged you to pursue a degree and career in public health?

Margo Klar: As an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) I majored in Chemical Engineering and worked in an environmental engineering lab. My undergraduate research focused on the effects of urban runoff on water quality, which we tracked from inland California to the ocean. During my last quarter at UCI, I took a biomedical engineering course. As a part of the class, we were asked to invent a new sleep apnea device. I really enjoyed that creative process and it opened my eyes to the fields of biomedical engineering and medicine.

After graduating, I began looking at applying to medical schools. I went back to school and took anatomy and biology prerequisites. My anatomy teacher once said, “In the United States we worry about problems with our feet, in other countries people don't have feet.” This really resonated with me. While researching medical school programs, I learned about Master of Public Health programs. I decided the MPH would be a great stepping-stone and improve my application to medical school. I was accepted into the Yale School of Public Health in the department of Environmental Health Science. Not only did I receive the training necessary to evaluate health and look for ways to improve global health, I was also able to direct my own thesis research project. I wrote my master’s thesis on an indoor cookstove improvement project for Proyecto Mirador, LLC in rural Honduras. I collected health data and examined indoor air quality improvement and reduction of firewood use as a result of cookstove replacement. This was a terrific learning experience.

NPH: You’ve received a Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop ceramic umbilical cord scissors. What drove you to pursue maternal and child health coming from an environmental background?

Klar: My mentor at Yale, Catherine Weikart Yeckel, PhD thought I should take a look at the Grand Challenges Explorations grant through the Gates Foundation. Essentially this funding mechanism releases a set of topics every six months to which they fund somewhere between 80 to 100 grants to the amount of $100,000 for two years of work. After the first proof of concept phase is complete, a second phase application can be submitted for up to $1 million.

Dr. Yeckel encouraged me to take a look at the maternal and child health topic. Essentially, I Googled top reasons for neonatal mortality in developing countries- neonatal tetanus and infection as a result of poor birthing hygiene and the way the umbilical cord is cut, was among the top causes. I really did not, at the time, have a strong interest in maternal and child health. I had an interest in problem solving, mainly because it’s been something, which has been a personal strength throughout my education. Thanks to my engineering background, I can look at a problem and come up with a solution to try to mitigate it. So, essentially I just applied my problem solving skills to the maternal and child health topic.

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May 9 2014
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Faces of Public Health: Laura Howe, The American Red Cross

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The American Red Cross recently announced the opening of its second Digital Operations Center—the first one outside of its national headquarters in Washington, D.C.—in the organization’s North Texas Region. Both centers are funded by the Dell Computer Corporation. The new center, along with others to be opened in the next few years, expands the ability of the American Red Cross to engage in social media, especially during regional disasters.

The Center will “allow us to build a center of expertise through our digital volunteers who help provide social data for regional responses,” said Laura Howe, vice president of public relations at the American Red Cross. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Howe about the impact of using social media to respond during disasters.

NewPublicHealth: How did the Red Cross social listening program begin?

Laura Howe: We started a social listening program for emergencies and disaster in a fulsome way after the Haiti earthquake. I walked out of my office and I had a bunch of staff members who were in tears. They were getting Twitter and Facebook messages from members of the Haitian diaspora community here in the United States giving them the exact locations of where people were trapped under rubble and where people needed help in Port au Prince. We were able to move that information to the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Defense to hopefully get people help on the ground. But, it showed us two things. It showed us the power of individuals to provide information that can help responders, but it also showed that there was a tremendous gap in the response system for being able to take in information and respond specifically to people who had an urgent emergency rescue need, and there really is no infrastructure to be able to do that.

But I do want to make clear that the Red Cross as an organization and Red Cross disaster workers are not going to be able to take in information off of social media and then send one of our people to come get you out of the rubble or to come rescue you. We are not acting as a 911 dispatch here. We are using social media platforms to provide people with preparedness information, emotional support and information that they can take action on. We’re also listening for information that can help us in our disaster response generally and help us better hone where we’re putting our resources during a disaster.

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NPH: What are the criteria for an optimal American Red Cross digital volunteer?

Laura Howe: We want someone who is comfortable in a social space; understands social media platforms and how social communities work; and is comfortable engaging with the public, having done that previously. Volunteers don’t necessarily have to have professional experience with social media, but do have to have a personal comfort level. Our training follows up on those prior skills about how to engage on behalf of the Red Cross. We train the digital volunteers about how we take in the information and then move it to our decision makers in order to make operational decisions.

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May 6 2014
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My App Says I Can’t Eat This

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If you’re planning on foreign travel then the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wants to help you find foods that won’t bite you back. Can I Eat This? is a free app from the agency that lets users search country-by-country for what’s safe to eat and drink. Once you choose the country you’ll be eating in—or where you already are, perhaps standing in line deciding what to order—simply tap the food or drink icon and wait for questions specific to that country.

For example, tapping “eating” in Argentina prompts the app to ask whether you’ll be buying from a street vendor or a store, and your answers prompt even more questions about the food ‘s storage and handling. In Bulgaria, tap “drinking” and you’ll be asked if there’s ice in the drink. Tap “yes” and a scary X will pop up with a warning of “probably not,” because the ice is likely made with tap water, which the CDC has identified as a poor safety choice in that country.

Can I Eat This? is available in the Google Play and iOS App stores.

>>Bonus Link: Find more travel health information from the CDC here.

Apr 23 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 23

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CDC: American Indians, Alaska Natives Have 50 Percent Higher Death Rates than Non-Hispanic Whites
American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) death rates were approximately 50 percent higher than rates among non-Hispanic whites—for both men and women—from 1999 to 2009, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health. The study determined that patterns of mortality were strongly influenced by the high incidence of diabetes, smoking prevalence, problem drinking and health-harming social determinants. Among the findings:

  • Among AI/AN people, cancer is the leading cause of death followed by heart disease. Among other races, it is the opposite.
  • Death rates from lung cancer have shown little improvement in AI/AN populations and AI/AN people have the highest prevalence of tobacco use
  • Suicide rates were nearly 50 percent higher for AI/AN people
  • Death rates from motor vehicle crashes, poisoning and falls were two times higher among AI/AN people
  • Death rates were higher among AI/AN infants

“The Indian Health Service is grateful for this important research and encouraged about its potential to help guide efforts to improve health and wellness among American Indians and Alaska Natives,” said Yvette Roubideaux, MD, MPH, acting IHS director, in a release from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  “Having more accurate data along with our understanding of the contributing social factors can lead to more aggressive public health interventions that we know can make a difference.” Read more on health disparities.

FDA Proposes New Program to Help Patients With Unmet Tech Needs
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a new program designed to help treat or diagnose people with serious conditions, but whose needs aren’t met by current technology. The proposed Expedited Access Premarket Approval Application for Unmet Medical Needs for Life Threatening or Irreversibly Debilitating Diseases or Conditions (“Expedited Access PMA” or “EAP”) program would include earlier and more interactive engagement with FDA staff, with the goal of providing patients with earlier access to safe and effective medical equipment. “The program allows manufacturers to engage early and often with the agency,” said Jeffrey Shuren, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “We expect most devices that enter this program will be in the pre-clinical trial phase.” Read more on technology.

Study Links Internet Use, Lower Depression Rates in Older Americans
Older Americans who spend more time online are also less likely to suffer from depression, according to a new study in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. Using data on 3,075 retired men and women who didn’t live in nursing homes gathered by the U.S. Health and Retirement Survey, researchers determined that the 30 percent who were Internet users also had a 33 percent lower probability of depression. "The largest impacts on depression were actually for those people who lived alone, so it's really suggesting that it's about connecting with others, eliminating isolation and loneliness," lead study author Shelia Cotton, according to Reuters. Read more on aging.

Apr 10 2014
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National Public Health Week: Healthy Eating—There’s an App for That

Eat well. That’s today’s theme for National Public Health Week—and it’s good advice. After all, according to the American Public Health Association, Americans are now eating 31 percent more calories than we did 40 years ago, including 56 percent more fats and oils and 14 percent more sugars and sweeteners. The average American eats 15 more pounds of sugar a year today than in 1970. 

There are new food-oriented websites and smartphone apps (many free) that can help people keep track of what foods they’re eating and what’s in those foods.

At the Milk Street Café in Boston, for example, the restaurant’s ordering site lets you filter the full menu into just the categories you want. Click low “fat” and the tailored breakfast menu leaves off the breakfast pastries and zooms in on the yogurt parfaits.

Other recent apps include:

  • Locavore, which points to farmers’ markets and produce stands in your neighborhood.
  • Harvest, which offers tips for choosing ripe produce.
  • Fooducate, a food database on your smartphone that includes basic nutrient and calorie information, plus high points of each food such as the fiber quantify of crackers.
  • Substitutions, an app finds alternatives when you can’t use the ingredient in the original recipe because of an allergy or other dietary restriction. Popular tip: Swap in fat-free yogurt when the recipe calls for fat-free sour cream to save calories.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture hosts the Food Access Research Atlas, which presents a spatial overview of food access indicators for low-income and other census tracts using different measures of supermarket accessibility. The app is valuable for community planning and research.