Tag: technology

Networking the New Normal: Confronting Illness through Social Media

GUEST BLOGGER: Terri Beth Miller, PhD

This is not how you expected life to be. You’re run down. You’re hurting. You’re physically and emotionally drained. And it feels as though those closest to you are a million miles away, as though you’ve suddenly found yourself stranded on a desert island with no hope of rescue.

This is what it can feel like when you are confronting illness, when a diagnosis suddenly transports you to a new world you never wanted to visit, let alone permanently inhabit.

The truth is that illness, whether physical or psychological, chronic or acute, can be one of the most frightening, disorienting, and isolating experiences a person can face. And yet, if we live long enough, we will all confront this experience. After all, ain’t none of us getting out of this life alive.

But diagnosis doesn’t have to mean disaster. Our 21st century world offers resources once unimaginable to those seeking health information and support. Few are more potent than the vast social media networks available to connect people in the most far-flung corners of the globe with the simple click of a button.

This seemingly limitless connection can be an infinite comfort for those who are suffering from illness, allowing survivors to reach out to fellow survivors, who often can understand illness in a way that those who haven’t experienced it simply cannot. After all, family and friends may empathize. They certainly can provide a love and comfort that the virtual world cannot replace. But there is a special and necessary connection shared by those have felt the gnawing at the bones, the torment of the mind—by those who have the visceral, intimate experience of real, bloody, hand-to-hand combat with illness. This is the connection that social media can offer to those suffering from illness, a means to overcome the isolation that can cut as deeply as sickness itself.

In addition to the opportunity to connect with fellow survivors, social media is an exceptional outlet for sharing health information and resources, from exploring treatment options to connecting with care-providers. After all, an informed patient is an empowered patient. Because those who are suffering from ill health often feel a tremendous lack of control and a vast feeling of uncertainty for the future, this access to knowledge can restore the sense of self-determination and understanding that survivors knew before diagnosis. These resources can restore some normalcy, or at least something of a return of the survivor’s sense of self.

Nevertheless, extreme caution must be practiced. We are perhaps never more vulnerable than when we are battling illness, and unfortunately those who would prey on the hopes and fears of the desperate are legion. So while it is healthy—and, indeed, essential—to seek out all the knowledge and resources possible when battling illness, it is equally essential to be wary of promises that are simply too good to be true. Vet the company you keep and the treasures you store up in the virtual world just as you do in the physical one.  Avail yourself of the immense resources available to you online as you wage your battle with sickness. But do so from a position of strength and discernment. This is your body. This is your mind. This is your spirit and your life. Harness the best and highest powers of social media. There is tremendous solace, solidarity, and support to be found online for those battling illness, but only for those who use it wisely.

For more information on the most beneficial mental health online resources, please visit: https://openforest.net/4-best-mental-health-bloggers-period/

Terri Beth Miller completed a PhD in English Language and Literature at the University of Virginia. She has taught writing and literature courses for more than a decade and is a regular contributor to the http://openforest.net mental health self-help portal. View her profile on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/drterribethmiller.

What’s For Dinner?

By Shauna Ayres MPH candidate 2017

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. is innovating the first home appliance for growing edible cell cultures. The CellPod prototype looks like a cylindrical lamp that is designed to be kept in the kitchen. Researchers are excited because it has the potential to grow only the healthy, nutritional parts of plants rather than the entire plant. In fact, the cells are genetically identical to the real plant and can produce the exact same antioxidants and vitamins. Cells could even be engineered to have increased or added nutritional value to meet every person’s specific dietary needs or deficiencies. For example, a diabetic could grow cells with a lower glycemic index which would assist in managing insulin levels or pregnant women could harvest cells with vitamins that improve fetal development and health. Theoretically, every culture from a CellPod could be tailored for the exact needs of each consumer.

Currently, the CellPod can harvest plant cells in about a week. However, the taste is mild and needs development. So far VTT has successfully grown Arctic bramble cells, cloudberry cells, and stone bramble cells.

This concept sounds great. We can now grow only the food we need. This will reduce food waste, improve human health, decrease supply chain pollution and cost, restore agriculture land to its natural state, and solve famine. Right? Well, like most things, it’s much more complicated. The largest hurdle for VTT will be convincing people that eating bland cells out of a petri dish is exciting and the newest culinary trend. Food is culture and giving up traditions of cooking, feasting, and celebrating in families, communities, and other social contexts is unlikely. Additionally, there is already enough fear around GMO products that still look like the original food source. I can’t imagine the outcry that will occur when people are spooning the GMO cells into their own mouths or their children’s mouths.

Plus, the global food industry is enormous! McDonald’s has over 36,000 restaurants in over 100 countries, Starbucks has over 24,000 coffee shops in over 70 countries, and Coca-Cola recorded $43.5 billion in revenue between April 2015-April 2016. These food giants have the power of a thick pocket book to influence policy makers to ban or over-regulate CellPod technologies as well as to influence consumers through clever advertising that convinces them they want and need a brand. If CellPod is the kitchen gadget of the future, VTT will need to partner with large food giants to develop a market base and establish a strong brand relationship with consumers. I’m unsure any company would be gutsy enough to take that risk. So don’t clear off a space in your kitchen for the CellPod just yet. But if this sounds great and you just can’t wait, try taking a baby step and eat your meals off petri dishes.







Real, Healthy Holiday Connections

I recently attended a holiday party and was surprised at how many attendees were constantly checking or using their cell phones. Sure there was a room full of bodies, but many of them were mentally absent and disengaged. I thought this was disheartened considering the holidays are supposed to be a time to connect with others, share and create memories, and enjoy an atmosphere of peace and joy. Maybe people were doing that via Facebook or Twitter, but an “LOL” on status update is just not the same as a genuine laugh around the dinner table. So the next party you go to, I challenge you to curb your technological urges and make healthy connections and real conversation with the people right next to you.

Below are some tips for regulating your technology usage during the holidays.

  1. Set some rules. Discuss concerns about excessive technology use with family and friends and make a few rules everyone can agree to follow. For example, you can only use your phone to take pictures while at parties and sharing these moments will have to wait until the end of the night.
  2. Establish some consequences. Discuss what will happen if someone breaks a rule and agree upon a punishment. For example, if someone is caught texting during dinner, that person has to do all the dishes, and hold them to it.
  3. Include everyone. If you want to play a video game, create a tournament so everyone can have a chance to play and feel involved. Or, you can create a playlist of everyone’s favorite holiday YouTube video and share it—just remember not to get side tracked and sucked into the YouTube wormhole.
  4. Realize there is a time and place for tech. You will get tired of family and friends, and allow for time that technology is accessible. For example, after the holiday chores are complete or right before bed time.

The holidays are a time to appreciate all the people, places, and things closest to you. Don’t let technology distract you from the holiday fun and excitement that’s happening around you right now!

Text source: PsychologyToday; Photo Source: Wikimedia

Kate Muessig, PhD, Talks About Tech in Public Health

Kate Muessig, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill. Muessig has done a plethora of research, primarily focused on improving HIV/STI prevention and care in China among sex workers as well as in North Carolina among men who have sex with men. Much of her research focuses on developing eHealth and mHealth interventions for these populations.

Currently, Muessig is working with a research team developing a tablet-based virtual reality program for HIV-positive males that will help them develop effective communication and decision-making skills around disclosing their HIV status to others, particularly intimate partners. She is also working on creating an mHealth app for HIV-positive patients in China to assist in navigating the complex Chinese healthcare system for HIV, continuing regular care, adhering to prescribed treatments and medications, and providing an accurate resource for more information about the disease.

Muessig hopes that public health and technology can be more integrated in the future. In her experience, she describes one of the key challenges as developing common language and navigating different work styles and funding mechanisms in the collaborations between academia and technology development groups. Muessig stresses that technology has the potential to be an invaluable health tool, but researchers and health professions need to develop useful new health behavior theories that incorporate a technological component, establish best practices for eHealth and mHealth interventions, and learn how to create self-sustaining, desirable apps and websites all while making meaningful impacts on major health concerns.

Read more about Kate Muessig and her research.

How do you think technology is changing public health research and interventions? Is technology helping or hindering public health efforts? How can technology be used as an ‘invaluable health tool?’

Photo source: UNC


Stethoscopes get a tech upgrade

The word doctor probably brings a stereotypical picture to mind—white coat, stethoscope, and maybe a clipboard with patient files. However technology is changing that picture. You may have noticed that more doctors are utilizing tablets and “filing” or saving notes to electronic health records (EHR) to reduce paperwork, costs, and error, as well as to increase productivity and access to health history. But what about that stethoscope? Yes, technology is changing this classic instrument too.

Eko Devices, a company based at UC-Berkeley, has developed a digital stethoscope, called Eko Core, that detects heart rhythms, uses Bluetooth to stream sounds to a smartphone app, and then transmits the data to a patient’s EHR. This allows doctors to record detailed data for immediate or later review while continuing to provide care to a patient. In addition, the investment of the device and software are infinitesimally small in comparison to costly EKG machines currently used. This savings would permit more heart screenings and potentially earlier detection of life-threatening heart defects.

The next step is to develop a Shazam-like application that could detect abnormalities and alert doctors in real time. These high-tech stethoscopes are currently being used in small practices, teaching hospitals, and locations utilizing other mHealth technologies, such as remote or rural areas. Eko Devices co-founder and chief operating officer, Jason Bellet, summed up the incredible potential of Eko Core when interviewed by mHealth News, “Imagine bringing the ears of a Johns Hopkins cardiologist to a small village in Africa or even a remote clinic in Montana.”

What other medical devices could be technologically updated?

Images source: Blogspot.com and J.Wexler via Bing.com

Wellness Wednesdays: More Irradiated Food, Please!

‘Irradiated food’. If the first thing that comes to mind when you hear these words is ‘nuclear disaster’, you’re not alone. But food that has been exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays (a.k.a. ‘irradiated food’) is sold in the United States every day. Labelled with the radura, fresh food that has been ‘pasteurized’ with UV has a shelf-life more than twice as long as untreated food, and is less likely to spoil due to microbial activity.


The radura, a symbol required on all food exposed to UV radiation during processing

Ultraviolet radiation kills some our biggest food foes, including E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria, along with the more common grey molds. Exposure to UV-C rays, which comprise a specific range in the ultraviolet spectrum between 200 and 280 nanometers (billionths of a meter) has no negative effects on food, and some studies even show that UV-C can increase the concentration of certain nutrients, including the beneficial antioxidants in fruits and vegetables.

UV treatment of food has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for decades, and can be used on a variety of fresh, frozen, and other processed products. However, this technology remains significantly underutilized today, primarily due to consumer misconceptions about the technology. Nearly 40% of the food grown in the United States is wasted, much of it at the consumer level due to food spoilage. Let’s change that. We must raise awareness about the benefits of this technology, and encourage its use by purchasing products made by the companies who make good use of it. More irradiated food, please!

For more information, see: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2014/01/pasteurization-does-ultraviolet-mean-ultrasafe/#.VNtTxC5jbT8

Did you know? : A Brief Review of Diabetes Accomplishments

  • 1924 (90 years ago) – Priscilla White, MD, created the Joslin Pregnancy Clinic to treat women with diabetes when less than half of all babies born to these women survived.  Fifty years later, 90 percent of babies born to women with diabetes at her clinic survived.
  • 1964 (50 years ago) The Ames Company developed the first blood glucose test strips using color codes.
  • 1974 (40 years ago) Development of the Biostator made continuous glucose monitoring and closed loop insulin infusion a possibility.
  • 1984 (30 years ago) For people with type 1 diabetes, the insulin molecule was identified as a target of autoimmune response.

In the almost 17 years I have had Type 1 diabetes, a lot has changed in the regimen of care. When I was diagnosed, I took a long acting insulin, NPH, and chased my blood sugars with food. The blood glucose meters, back then, required much more blood than they do now. Today, I wear an insulin pump that gives me some fast acting insulin, humalog, continuously and through carb counting, I give additional insulin when I eat. I also test my blood sugar many times a day and wear a continuous glucose monitor that gives me readings every 5 minutes. The test strip was developed 50 years ago.  Through anecdotal stories, I have heard how difficult life was before actually being able to test your blood sugar.  It involved weekly urine checks for sugar and, between those tests, injections and guessing what is going on with blood sugar levels.  I know I am quite stressed if I leave my test kit at home when I’m out for a few hours, but doing without a test kit around the clock? Wow!  I am extremely excited for what future technology holds to improve the care for those with Type 1 diabetes. What do you see as future technological advancements? What will be the developments, that we look back on, many years from now, that are the real turning points?


Smart Phone Medicine


“I have a smart phone. Am I doctor?”

That quote comes from funny man Stephen Colbert. Realistically, it could have been uttered by anyone dubious of consumer technology’s role in health care.

Last week, Colbert interviewed Eric Topol, author of “The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care” on his show, The Colbert Report. Topol, a cardiologist, serves as Chief Academic Officer at Scripps Health and co-founded the West Wireless Health Institute.

Topol explained that the term “creative destruction” in his book title refers to the transformation of medicine using radical innovation. In a nutshell, technology is turning medicine on its head.

“That smart phone is going to be the conduit of medical information about your health, about your essence,” Topol told Colbert. “You can do monitoring anywhere, through your phone, through these kind of sensors.”

In response, Colbert asked, “If I’m doing the monitoring, why do I need the doctor?” Instead of answering, Topol pulled out the tip of an otoscope, attached it to his smart phone, and stuck it in Colbert’s ear. (A few days prior, Colbert had blown out his eardrum while scuba diving.)

The on-air prognosis? “It’s healing,” said Topol.

But Colbert was onto something with his question. Where do doctors fit in a consumer-technology-ridden medical field? Is technology leading us to believe we can be our own doctors? Would that be a bad thing?

On one hand, personal devices and sensors provide an opportunity to monitor vitals, such as blood pressure, more frequently and without an expensive doctor visit. Topol explained that, using sensory technology, your phone may even be able to warn you if you’re about to have a heart attack.

On the other hand, many of us have already experienced the ineffectiveness of self-diagnosis (see anytime you have a sore throat, look up your symptoms on WebMD, and subsequently determine you have throat cancer). It also seems possible that average people would become overconfident with their new tools and not seek medical care when necessary.

Still, even skeptics may have difficulty getting over the novelty and impressiveness of these new health technologies. Case in point: one minute, Topol said, “Let’s convert this smart phone to a medical device.” And then, just like that, he did.

Image source: The Colbert Report’s Facebook page

Back to the kitchen women!

All this equal rights mess has really messed things up! While you feminists fought for the right to vote and go to work and all that other crap, you have gotten a little round in the tummy! Don’t call NOW (National Organization for Women), I just wanted to get your attention. That might be what some pig head would say with this recently posted article stating there is a marked difference in women’s habits in the 1960’s to now that has affected their weight status. More specifically, in the 1960’s women spent an average of 25.7 hours a week cleaning, cooking and doing laundry and in 2010 they spent an average of 13.3 hours per week according to a study based on 2011 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data .

Fortunately, the article is not calling for women to quit their jobs and slip on the apron. There is another solution. Technology has caused the shift in women’s behavior and reduced the calories expended during the day. Spending countless hours in front of the television and tablet has increased sedentary behavior; a well-documented predictor of becoming overweight. In the 60’s, women could not occupy their free time with computers and iphone apps.  Women (and men) now have to make a concerted effort for “deliberate exercise to overcome the decrement in daily activity.”

More interesting about the study is its primary objective was to investigate how the evolution of technology increases obesity in future generations. Pregnant overweight women have offsprings with more fat cells.  We must alter the health messages to pregnant women now; “ No drinking, no smoking and no sitting!” Get up off that thang!


Finding the eHealth Gems

This post was written by Linden Thayer, a doctoral student in Nutrition Intervention and Policy at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her passions include school- and family-based child obesity prevention, health communication, and gardens.

eHealth: “the use of emerging information and communication technology, especially the Internet, to improve or enable health and health care” (Eng 2001)

eHealth, to this public health specialist, sounds like the Holy Grail. eHealth offers a way to improve efficacy and reach of preventive health programs at a lower cost than traditional approaches, such as in-person counseling or group-based programs. (Think about it: design one app to detect skin cancer, launch, and reach thousands of people for the same price!)

But when it comes to using all these fabulous apps and websites, I have to wonder: how do I get individuals to find my programs and use what I think are the best resources?  To illustrate this dilemma, I just entered the second trimester of my first pregnancy and I thought it would be fun to explore pregnancy apps. A quick Google search brought back hundreds of possibilities and, instead of sifting through the clutter, I gave up. Who wants to bother figuring out which apps are evidence-based and which ones are not worth anyone’s time?

If someone had recommended an app to me, I might have tried it. Which reminds me that even in a digital world, we still rely heavily on real people (and their experiences and expertise) to help us navigate and evaluate the options. When it comes to eHealth and the quest to connect real people to effective eHealth technologies, I would love to have one trusted government, not-for-profit or foundation website that aggregates, analyzes and recommends eHealth programs. The National Cancer Institute and the Center for Training and Research Translation are two examples of groups that review health programs, but they do not have a way to identify eHealth programs (websites, apps, video games, etc.) in particular.

If you know of some excellent eHealth-review resources, please share! And if they are not out there yet, we need to find the right people for the job because, as more programs are developed, users are going to need more guidance to sift through the sand and find the eHealth gems.

Image source: Stuart Miles and FreeDigitalPhotos.net