Category Archives: Technology

Jan 21 2014
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911 Needs an Update

A nine-year-old girl staying with her mother and siblings in a hotel room in Texas last month was unable to reach 911 to save her mother from an attack by the woman’s estranged husband because the child didn’t know to press “9” in the hotel room before “911” in order to reach an outside line. That death has led to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) inquiry into how wide that problem is at U.S. hotels and is just one of many facets of the 911 response system that experts say needs updating. Other pressing issues include:

  • Call 911 from a land line and responding operators can usually track your location, which is crucial if a person is being attacked or collapses before completing a call. However, most centers don’t yet have the technology to track 911 calls placed from a cell phone. Current FCC rules call for wireless phones to have the needed GPS technology to allow 911 centers to track call locations by 2018.
  • While many people assume they can and do send 911 requests by text message, few 911 centers can access text messages currently and so most of those texts go unanswered. The four largest wireless telephone companies—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon—have voluntarily committed to make texting to 911 available by May 15, 2014 in areas where the local 911 center is prepared to receive the texts. The FCC maintains a list of communities that can respond to 911 text messages which includes all of Iowa, Maine and Vermont, and some counties in a few other states.

“Our 911 systems today are pretty much voice-centric, last-century technology,” says Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). Fontes says that “the ability to have 911 communicate in the manner in which the public is communicating among itself today, is critically important.”

In addition, according to emergency experts new technologies would enhance the 911 response in many ways, including letting first responders see video and photos of an accident victim; demonstrate a needed emergency action, such as CPR, to responding laypersons; and even access medical records such as a victim’s medications, which could improve the response

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Jan 16 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: January 16

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HHS: Guides, Tools to Improve Safe Use of EHRs
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released a new set of guides and interactive tools to assist health care providers in more safely using and managing electronic health information technology products, such as electronic health records (EHRs). The resources—which include checklists, practice worksheets and recommended practices to assess and optimize the safe use of EHRs—are available at HealthIT.gov. Each guide is available as an interactive online tool or a downloadable PDF. The new tools are part of HHS’s plan to implement its Health IT Patient Safety Action and Surveillance Plan, released last July. Read more on technology.

Traumatic Brain Injury Linked to Higher Risk of Early Death
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is linked to a higher risk of premature death, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, analyzed the records of all patients born in 1954 or later in Sweden who were diagnosed with TBI from 1969 to 2009, finding an increased risk of dying among patients who survived six months after TBI compared to those without TBI, with the risk remaining for years afterward. In particular, the study found an increased risk of death from external causes such as suicide, injury and assault, also was higher. “Current clinical guidelines may need revision to reduce mortality risks beyond the first few months after injury and address high rates of psychiatric comorbidity and substance abuse,” wrote the study authors. Read more on mental health.

Heavy Drinking During Middle Age Can Cause Earlier Memory Loss in Men
Heavy drinking during middle age can bring on earlier deterioration of memory, attention and reasoning skills in men, according to a new study in the journal Neurology. Researchers studied data on 5,000 men and 2,000 women whose alcohol consumption was assessed three times over a 10-year period before also taking three tests of memory, attention and reasoning, with the first test happening at the average age of 56. They found that men who drank at least 2.5 servings of alcohol a day experienced mental declines between 1.5 and 6 years earlier than the other participants. "Heavy alcohol consumption is known to be detrimental for health, so the results were not surprising...they just add that [it's] also detrimental for the brain and the effects can be observed as [early] as 55 years old," said study author Severine Sabia, a research associate in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London. Read more on alcohol.

Dec 30 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 30

More Than One Million People Now Enrolled for Health Insurance Coverage under the Affordable Care Act
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers the health insurance provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) reported late last week that more than one million people have now enrolled for coverage under the ACA.

CMS also reported that December enrollment as of December 27 was seven times that of October and November. Open enrollment will continue through March, with rolling dates for first day of coverage. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

U.S. Flu Cases on the Rise
The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota reported last week that rates of flu are on the rise in the United States, with the 2009 H1N1 virus the predominant strain. The good news is that this year’s flu vaccine is protective against H1N1.

According to CIDRAP, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that the 2009 H1N1 virus has a greater impact on younger adults and older children than seasonal flu strains typically do.

The numbers of U.S. flu cases are usually highest January through March, which means that people who have not had flu shots yet still have time to protect themselves. Full immunity from the vaccine can take up to two weeks from the time of the injection. Use the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder to find a flu shot in your neighborhood. Read more on outbreaks.

New Orleans Health Commissioner to become Federal Health IT Administrator
New Orleans Health Commissioner Karen DeSalvo, MD, has been appointed the new National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (IT), replacing Farzad Mostashari, who left the position earlier this year. In a memo to employees of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the office of the National Coordinator, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted that Dr. DeSalvo boosted the use of health IT as "a cornerstone of [New Orleans’s] primary care efforts and a key part of the city's policy development, public health initiatives and emergency preparedness." Dr. DeSalvo will begin her post in mid-January. Under Dr. DeSalvo's leadership, New Orleans also received the inaugural Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Roadmaps to Health Prize.

Dec 20 2013
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In Case of Emergency, Follow Twitter

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How does public health take care of the communities it serves during a foodborne illness or infectious disease outbreak? Through a series of sophisticated steps, most choreographed long before an emergency occurs. Every minute of every day, U.S. and global health experts monitor reports that could indicate a disease or foodborne illness outbreak, as well as review samples of food, water, soil and other resources to detect outbreaks. Some of the steps are well laid out and public; others, such as those monitored by the Department of Homeland Security—watchful for terror attacks on food and water supplies—are hidden from view, but supremely vigilant.

Other examples of outbreak preparedness activities:

  • Each year the American Public Health Association updates its Control of Communicable Diseases manual, and adds updates as needed to the manual’s mobile platforms.
  • Outbreak guidance for new public health officers, as well as refreshers for veterans, are provided by public health official member associations such as the National Association of County and City Health Officials and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
  • New public health officers are also invited to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for an orientation that includes outbreak guidance.

No, health officials can’t know whether an outbreak might occur next week or next month—or never—and whether it’s going to be a new strain of flu, or tainted ground beef sold at multiple food outlets. But by having a set of continually reviewed steps for alerting the public—and keeping them up to date with real-time guidance—targeted advice for any outbreak can be quickly assessed and disseminated.

Health agencies typically share information and best practices with local and state health departments through conference calls and alerts throughout a crisis. And, with the explosion of social media, just about all health departments continually add communications channels for the people they serve. For example, health officials in Montgomery County, Texas, this week are keeping the public informed about an illness outbreak that may turn out to be a severe form of flu, through dedicated channels that include a telephone hotline and its Facebook page. Read the wealth of posts on preparedness on NewPublicHealth to see the many avenues health departments take to keep residents continually informed when an outbreak occurs.

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Dec 20 2013
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The Digital World's Response to Outbreaks

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Outbreaks can spread faster than you think. But luckily the development of new digital tools and technologies to assist with documenting, tracking and alerting the public of the spread of infectious disease is progressing even more rapidly. There are new databases, maps and communications technologies that make tracking down an outbreak and getting it under control a much quicker and more efficient process. Digital developments focusing on emergency preparedness and response can help protect more of the population from the next pandemic.

We’ve brought together a few examples of how the digital world is working to improve emergency response:

  • At the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, a new initiative called Project Tycho is working to convert 125 years worth of data from paper documents into an open-access database. Project Tycho will save researchers around the world the time of finding reliable historical data from different sources for infectious diseases, which is critical to understanding underlying epidemic dynamics, according to Dr. Willem van Panhuis, an assistant professor of epidemiology at University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health.
  • The Advanced Molecular Detection Initiative proposed in the President’s 2014 Budget could help make huge strides in controlling infectious disease. The initiative would bring together experts in laboratory science, epidemiology and bioinformatics to join forces like never before. By using genetic sequencing to examine infectious pathogens, these technologies are on the verge of revolutionizing medical professionals’ abilities to diagnose infectious diseases; investigate and control outbreaks; understand transmission patterns; develop and target vaccines; and determine antimicrobial resistance—all with increased timeliness and accuracy and decreased costs.
  • Social media and crowdsourcing technologies have helped medical professionals develop tools to track the spread of disease and where outbreaks are occurring and even make the data available to the general public. HealthMap is one of the original examples of using digital technologies to track outbreaks while keeping the public informed.
file CDC's "Solve the Outbreak"
  • In efforts to spread the skills needed to deal with public health issues such as outbreaks, the CDC has made learning more fun through games such and applications such as CDCology and Solve the Outbreak for the iPad. CDCology is a pilot program through the CDC and supported by HHSIgnite (beta). The pilot website uses CDC staff-created, student-solved, virtual microtasks to tackle public health challenges at CDC. As they complete the short microtasks, the students gain valuable educational experience, insight and exposure to the field of public health. Solve the Outbreak puts you in the shoes of a member of the Epidemic Intelligence Service. Playing the game presents the opportunities to use clues, analyze data, solve the scenario and save lives in this virtual world, but also helps teach the public more about the process behind handling a real outbreak.

>>Follow our complete coverage of Outbreak Week and join the conversation on Twitter with #outbreakweek.

Dec 13 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 13

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AAP Issues Recommendations on Reducing Youth Deaths from Gun Violence
Every day seven U.S. children are killed by gun violence and it remains the second-leading cause of death among youth in the country. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a list of recommendations on how to keep kids safe and hopefully make an impact on these troubling statistics. “Gun violence is a public health issue that profoundly affects children and their families,” said AAP President Thomas K. McInerny, MD, FAAP. “We know what works—strong laws to enforce background checks and safe storage.” Watch a video on the APP recommendations and read more here. Read more on violence.

Study: African-American Men from Single-Parent Homes More Likely to Suffer from Hypertension
African-American men who grew up in two-parent homes are less likely to suffer from hypertension as adults than are their peers who grew up in single-parent homes, according to a new study in the journal Hypertension.  The researchers analyzed data on 515 men enrolled in the Howard University Family Study. Possible explanations for the disparity include the fact that children who live only with their mothers are three times as likely to live in poverty, and socioeconomic status has been linked to higher blood pressure. “Family structure is among a slew of environmental influences that, along with our genes, help determine our health as adults,” said Dan Kastner, MD, PhD, scientific director, National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). “This study makes important observations about home life that may affect susceptibility to complex diseases later on in life.” The National Institutes of Health’s NHGRI and National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities conducted the study. Read more on health disparities.

Excessive Cellphone Use Tied to Higher Anxiety, Lower Productivity in College Kids
Excessive cellphone use is linked to higher levels of anxiety, less satisfaction with life and lower grades in college-age adults, according to a new study in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. Researchers examined data on approximately 500 men and women enrolled at Kent State University in 82 different fields of study. The average student spent 279 using their cellphone each day, sending an average of 77 text messages, and researchers believe that a perceived obligation to stay connected on social media may be behind the increased anxiety and decreased productivity. "At least for some students, the sense of obligation that comes from being constantly connected may be part of the problem,” said Andrew Lepp, lead study author and an associate professor at Kent State University. "Some may not know how to be alone to process the day's events, to recover from certain stressors." Read more on technology.

Dec 11 2013
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Recommended Reading: ‘Retweet This’—Researchers See Rise in Use of Twitter to Share Scientific Journal Articles

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The top two tweeted peer-reviewed science articles between 2010 and 2012 were about the effect of radiation on humans, according to a study published in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. Researchers reviewed 1.4 million articles to determine the most tweeted studies. Runners up in the top 15 of the most tweeted articles included studies on acne in teenagers and the link between physical activity and mortality rates. Nature, a highly regarded journal, received the most tweets: 13,430 Twitter mentions of 1,083 papers.

However, the researchers found that a retweet rate doesn’t necessarily correlate with a high rate of citations for an article in other studies, which is a standard measurement of significance for a scientific study. The most tweeted study—on genetic changes during radiation exposure—was tweeted 963 times but was cited in journals only nine times.

"The most popular scientific articles on Twitter stress health implications or have a humorous or surprising component. This suggests that articles having the broadest scientific impact do not have the widest distribution," said Stefanie Haustein, of the University of Montreal School of Library and Information Science, and a co-author of the study.

Still, the researchers say the increase in tweets that include a link or description of scientific studies is important even if the rates don’t correlate with journal citations. For one thing, the number of scientific researchers on Twitter is still low and “the fact that more and more articles are tweeted [at all] is good news because it helps scientific communication [and] regardless of whether non-scientists are sending this information, it proves that science is an aspect of general culture,” said Vincent Larivière, PHD, a co-author of the study and professor at the University of Montreal, who holds the Canada Research Chair on the Transformation of Academic Communication.

Read the full study.

Dec 2 2013
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Recommended Reading: Effectiveness of Public Health Smartphone Apps

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As smartphone technology becomes ever more ubiquitous and the dangers of tobacco become ever more apparent, it's not surprising that there are 414 quit-smoking apps available between iPhones and Androids, with Androids alone seeing about 700,000 downloads of these apps each month.

There's no question that these apps are in demand in the United States, where an estimated 11 million smokers own a smartphone and more than half of smokers in 2010 tried to quit.

The question is: Are they effective?

According to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the answer is too often "no," with many of the most popular apps failing to employ and advocate known and successful anti-tobacco strategies.

"Quit-smoking apps are an increasingly available tool for smokers," said lead author Lorien Abroms, ScD, an associate professor of Prevention and Community Health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS), according to Health Canal. "Yet our study suggests these apps have a long way to go to comply with practices that we know can help people stub out that last cigarette."

The study looked at the 50 top anti-smoking apps for both iPhones and Androids, analyzing their tactics on a number of fronts, including how well they aligned with guidelines from the U.S. Public Health Service on treating tobacco use. The review found serious issues with the apps' advice, especially concerning clinical practices. It found that:

  • Most lacked basic advice on how to quit smoking and did not help people establish a "quit plan"
  • None recommend calling a quit-line, which can more than double the chances of successfully quitting tobacco
  • Fewer than one in 20 of the apps recommended medications, even though studies show how nicotine replacement therapy can help curb cravings

Taken together these, last two findings are especially troubling, as their pairing has been found to more than triple the chances of a person successfully breaking their nicotine addiction. One of the biggest takeaways from the study, according to Abroms, is that while quit-smoking apps can be important components of a larger plan to quit smoking, there might also be a simpler way to use those fancy smartphones.

"They should simply pick up their smartphone and call a quit-line now to get proven help on how to beat a tobacco addiction."

And the lack of adequate advice and guidance isn't limited to quit-smoking apps. A study by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics found that while apps remain popular, they also remain limited.

"It clearly demonstrated that, to date, most efforts in app development have been in the overall wellness category with diet and exercise apps accounting for the majority available. An assessment finds that healthcare apps available today have both limited and simple functionality--the majority do little more than provide information.

Read the full story at Health Canal.

>>Bonus content: Read the previous NewPublicHealth post, "Public Health: There's An App For That"

>>Bonus link: Mobile Health and FDA Guidance

>>Bonus links: Here's a quick look at a few of the newest apps designed to improve public health in a variety of ways:

  • My Health Apps offers a vast array of apps, sorted by categories such as "Mental Health," "Me and My Doctor" and "Staying Healthy"
  • Hula, which helps people find STD testing, get the results on their phone and even share verified results
  • My Fitness Pal, which combines guidance and community to help people lose weight
  • Planned Parenthood offers a series of teen-focused apps on important issues such as birth control, condoms and even substance abuse
Nov 7 2013
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Social Media and Hurricane Sandy: Q&A with Jay Dempsey and Vivi Abrams Siegel

Hurricane Sandy made landfall last year during the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) annual meeting in San Francisco. Several sessions at the annual meeting this year in Boston, one year after the storm, focused on the response during the hurricane that killed dozens, injured hundreds and destroyed thousands of homes.

In a key session Monday, communications specialists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on a study of new media preparedness and response messaging implemented before and after the disaster. As Hurricane Sandy approached landfall, the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) assisted state and local public health partners by developing and sharing storm-related messaging across several social media channels, including an SMS text subscription service to directly reach people affected by the storm.

CDC determined what topics would need coverage each day, ranging from preparing for the storm's arrival to post-storm safety and clean-up. Once messages were posted, they were retweeted across several CDC Twitter feeds and on social media channels of local health departments. The recent CDC study found that leveraging social media turned out to be very important for driving a steady increase in traffic to CDC emergency response web pages. For example, a message about safe clean-up of mold produced 14,881 visits. The number of NCEH Twitter followers also increased—there were 4,226 twitter followers at the beginning of October before the storm, and that grew to 5,215 followers—a 23 percent increase—once the storm hit.

>>NewPublicHealth was on the ground throughout the APHA conference speaking to public health leaders and presenters, hearing from attendees on the ground and providing updates from sessions, with a focus on how we can build a culture of health. Find the complete coverage here.

Ahead of the APHA meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with Jay Dempsey, a health communications specialist in the National Center for Environmental Health who presented the data at the APHA meeting and Vivi Abrams Siegel, a health communications specialist in the CDC Office of Public Health Preparedness and Emergency Response about the findings and the growing importance of social media before, during and immediately after disasters.

NewPublicHealth: What’s most important about the recent study on social media and disaster preparedness and response?

Jay Dempsey: The case study is an overview of the lessons that we learned from using social media to disseminate emergency and preparedness messaging ahead of and during and immediately following Hurricane Sandy. Some of the things that we knew going in during the response to Hurricane Sandy was that a growing number of people are using social media to get information just before and during a disaster or an emergency. So knowing that, we leveraged our social media channels and the first thing we saw was a pretty substantial increase in web traffic. We’re able to track the number of page visits that come exclusively from social media and make a determination of approximately how much social media drove traffic to those particular pages.

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Oct 10 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 10

University of Maryland Study Shows Need for Improved Communication by Dental Professionals
New research from the University of Maryland School of Public Health found that a majority of dentists and dental hygienists are not regularly using recommended communication techniques with their patients that can contribute to improved oral health literacy and prevention of oral disease. The researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of Dental Hygiene, surveyed 540 Maryland dental hygienists to determine the frequency of the use of 18 recommended communication techniques to effectively communicate science-based information to patients. Only one basic technique—use of simple language—was used by more than 90 percent of dental offices, according to survey responders. The survey also found that dental professionals who had taken a communication course in a non-dental educational setting were more likely to regularly use varying types of communication techniques. Read more on health literacy.

Study: Online Medical Searches Not a Good Idea for People Who Struggle With Uncertainty, Anxiety
People who struggle with uncertainty and anxiety might want to stay away from online health information searches, according to a new study in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. The study, which included 512 healthy men and women with a mean age of about 33, analyzed how online searchers affected their anxiety, as well as their reactions to statements such as "I always want to know what the future has in store for me" and "I spend most of my time worrying about my health." "If I'm someone who doesn't like uncertainty, I may become more anxious, search further, monitor my body more, go to the doctor more frequently—and the more you search, the more you consider the possibilities," said Thomas Fergus, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University. "If I see a site about traumatic brain injuries and have difficulties tolerating uncertainty, I might be more likely to worry that's the cause of the bump on my head." These persistent worries can increase the likelihood of worrying about potential medical bills, disability and job loss, which in turn can lead to even more online searches, doctors visits, unnecessary medical tests and stress. Read more about technology.

Study: TV Drug Ads Are Often Misleading
A study on the veracity of television drug ads by researchers at Dartmouth and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that six out of 10 claims could potentially mislead a viewer. The study was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. The researchers found misleading claims among television ads for both prescription and nonprescription drugs, and that some of the ads omitted or exaggerated information. The researchers studied the 6:30 to 7 p.m. portion of nightly news broadcast, which often contains drug ads, and reviewed 168 different drug advertisements that aired between 2008 and 2010. Trained researchers classified the ads as truthful, potentially misleading or false. The researchers found only one in ten claims were false, while six in ten were misleading and included errors such as leaving out important information, exaggerating information, providing opinions or making meaningless associations with lifestyles. Read more on prescription drugs.