Archive for the ‘Health 2.0’ category

Free Social Web Presentation: A $495 value!

24, September, 2008

I’m about to go do a presentation on social media. The topic this time: How to use various search-and-discover tools to monitor what’s being said in the socialwebosphere about you, your company, your partners or competitors, your spouse, your enemies, etc.

The audience is a group of people who do PR, marketing and communications for non-profit groups in the healthcare field. The people in attendance paid $495 to hear my presentation–though, to be fair, a lunch, dinner and a bunch of other, far more interesting speakers are part of the deal too.

But I thought I’d share the useful stuff right here in my blog, where everything is free. And–this is a guarantee–worth every penny.

The presentation lists a bunch of tools you can use to monitor what’s being said out in the social web. I know there are many others, but the ones I’m listing are both user-friendly for late adopters and likely, at least as a group, to produce a good scan of what’s being said in blogs, on Twitter, on discussion forums and hyperlocal news sites.

If any readers of this blog know good tools to supplement or replace the ones I’ve listed here, please leave a comment below. I’ll update the list and republish the full list in a later post.

Anyway, it’s about 12:30 p.m. and I’m on at 1 p.m. Better run.

Here’s the handout I’ll give out.

Learning to Listen In

The following tools help you monitor the many conversations happening all around the Internet. Some comments may involve your business, institution or key people. You may not want or need to respond. But knowing what people are saying is vital.

Listening is also an easy way to familiarize yourself with the baffling world of social media. Later on you may want to use these same techniques in marketing, branding, communication and customer service efforts. Talk like a marketer, though, and they’ll hate you.


Hints:

Most of these tools let you save your searches. Some send results to your e-mail, your iGoogle page or any RSS reader [Yahoo360, Netvibes, Bloglines, etc.]


Be sure to “listen” not only for your institution or firm’s full name, but for its nickname, short name, common misspellings, etc. Don’t forget about the names of key people.

The following tools are listed in approximate order of value. Start with Google Alerts, and see which others turn up content you’d otherwise miss.

  • Google Alerts The most basic way to monitor what’s being published on important topics and events. If nothing else, set Google Alerts for keywords and have results delivered to your e-mail box. http://www.google.com/alerts
  • Filtrbox Can dig deeper and help analyze content that turns up. Monthly fee for high-level use. For some, it may be worth it. http://www.filtrbox.com/
  • BlogPulse A Nielsen service, it monitors blog content http://www.blogpulse.com/
  • Omgili or Twing Both of these monitor the “deep web”—message boards where most search engines don’t prowl http://www.omgili.com or http://www.twing.com
  • Twitter Search To listen in on what’s being said on this annoying, oddly compelling platform http://search.twitter.com/. For alerts: http://tweetbeep.com/
  • Topix Aggregates local news better than most. A good way to see what your local press is reporting without having to visit their sites http://www.topix.com/

Reposting: The Candidates’ $2,500 Fixation

10, August, 2008

[This is a repost from The Health Central Network’s Healtcare08 Web site, where I write about the politics of healthcare [I also helped build the cool app appearing on the front page there]. It also appears on The Health Care Blog, to which I also contribute as part of my work in the Health 2.0 space.

The $2,500 question

There’s some peculiar numerology going in the presidential candidates’ health reform plans.
John McCain proposes that every American receive a $2,500 tax credit ($5,000 for families) to help them afford health insurance bought in the private market.

Barack Obama says his health care plan will save the average American family $2,500 per year.

I mean, what are the chances?

I suspect both campaigns are shrewd enough to know that “a couple hundred bucks a month” [middle-class citizen’s translation of $2,500 per year] is likely to get a voter’s attention. The fact that both campaigns came up with an identical figure is eerie, however. It’s enough to make you wonder whether anti-trust laws should apply to political campaigns.

To be plain, there is no good reason to believe these campaign promises more than others, despite the precision of the dollar amount cited.

Obama’s $2.5k promise was recently picked apart by the New York Times.

Reported the Times:

“Even if the next president and Congress can muster the political will, analysts question whether significant savings would materialize in as little as four years, or even in 10. But as Mr. Obama confronts an electorate that is deeply unsettled by escalating health costs, he is offering a precise “chicken in every pot” guarantee based on numbers that are largely unknowable. Furthermore, it is not completely clear what he is promising.”

Meanwhile, McCain’s $2,500 per person tax credit doesn’t look like much when you consider the cost of health insurance purchased in the open market. Currently employers and workers together pay about $4,400 per person for insurance premiums, about $12,000 for families.

Individual policies–which McCain’s policies are designed to encourage, perhaps at the expense of employer-supported plans–often cost more. They certainly cost more for people who have one or more chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, depression or arthritis–which is to say, a vast majority of the adult population.

That couple hundred bucks a month you just pocketed from President McCain? You’ve got to spend that, and add a couple hundred more–and maybe a couple hundred more than that–just to pay for your premiums in the open market.

So what are we to make of this? What’s so magic about the number $2,500? Why would this figure stand out in the heads of political operatives trying to craft policies to appeal to supporters?

Hard to tell. But I got to wondering. Let me check a figure here at the Federal Elections Commission website a second. . .there it is! I thought this all seemed familiar.

The most money an individual can give to a presidential candidate to show their commitment is. . .$2,300. Five thousand if you’re a PAC.

I mean, what are the chances?


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A Google Health Clinical Exam

22, May, 2008

Not one more pixel need be spilt about the issues of privacy, security, HIPAA, metastatic data, third-party crashers, or corporate imperial overreach raised by the debut of Google Health. Let’s just snap on the latex gloves and do a quick exam. This won’t hurt a bit.

Three brief clinical observations follow:

Your conditions, your choice

You can enter your “conditions” either by entering text or choosing from a disheartening alphabetic menu of bodily afflictions, from Aarskog Syndrome to Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome. The list is 20 screens by 3 columns deep when spread out on one endless page.

Immediately preceding the last entry is “Zits”–a nice bit of diction that helps reach users where they live, so to speak, to humanize the Google Machine. As with many conditions that populate the picklist (no pun), there’s a pre-loaded search for zits. But only certain conditions are pre-loaded with searches. Although “whiteheads” was on the list, when I typed it in there was no stored search. When I did the search myself up popped the zits search results.

To give the product a test run as you can see below I chose a number of conditions from the list — WHICH, IF YOU ARE AN INSURER, EMPLOYER OR ACQUAINTANCE, I ASSURE YOU ARE ENTIRELY MADE UP AND DON’T APPLY TO ME AT ALL, IN FACT I AM PERFECTLY HEALTHY. I also tried to throw Brother Google a curve ball by describing the same conditions using several different terms, i.e., arthritis, osteoarthritis and bad knees. I was permitted to add these as I wished. To see if there was any filtering or databasing of my conditions going on, I outright invented a disease by lashing together some of my favorite Greek roots: pyohemoflatalgia. (Go ahead, look ’em up.) Brother Google didn’t blink.

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Conclusion: Google isn’t databasing my conditions. I’m just entering text, and the alpha picklist is just there to prompt people to identify diseases by common names.

Google Health “Research” Offers Less–and Therefore Better–Content than a Google Search

Hit the “research” link accompanying any condition and up pops a neatly tailored page on the topic. Most of the page (on, say, osteoarthritis) consists of a spectacularly workmanlike article from the utterly competent information provider A.D.A.M. The right rail has a set of links curated by some unknown hand or machine. Depending on the topic you may get a few blurbs of news items (by some method culled from the longer, messier, far less coherent Google News results on the same topic), links to Google Groups, Google Scholar articles or related searches (“search trends”).

Runner\'s Knee Sidebar


Observation: The regular–i.e., non-Google Health–Google searches on the same topics provide better results than Google searches on non-medical topics. (Google has for some time used a service called “Google Co-op” to serve up results from only selected health content providers.) This is good–a tacit acknowledgment by Brother Google that searches for lymphoma are more important than those for, say, “David winner Idol”. STILL, THE FIRST LISTING ON THE TOP OF GOOGLE SEARCH RESULTS FOR MANY HEALTH-RELATED “SEARCH TREND” TOPICS IS OFTEN FROM WIKIPEDIA. WOULD YOU GUYS STOP THAT?

Did somebody mention “beta”?

We all know how Google overuses the term “beta” to (correctly, often) imply an evolving product and to (necessarily, often) seek forgiveness for bugs that haven’t been scrubbed out yet.

Well: After creating “my” “personal” health “record,” I tried the Google Health (beta) find-a-doctor function. “diabetes” doctors in “Bethesda, Maryland.” Enter.

This keystroke should have triggered a klaxon audio file that screamed BETABETABETA!!! Ah-OOO-Ga! Ah-OOO-Ga!

I don’t know, maybe that top endocrinologist is staying at the Grand Hyatt Washington. Or maybe he’s taken a job with the Department of Health and Human Services? (Or is it the Department of Transportation?) Who can tell?

Anyhow, the seven minutes I have for basic clinical exams is over. It was fun giving Google Health a quick once-over. But it’s a good thing the medical record is a fake. I don’t think it’s ready for circulation yet.

In fact, there were enough suspicious observations in my quick exam that. . .I think I may have to schedule a biopsy next. Who knows what’ll turn up?

iMedix: Social Search that Creeps Me Out

12, May, 2008

Oh, geez. Deb21 wants to chat again.

Here I am, trying to look up some information about tinnitus–a k a ringing in the ears, a condition which has recently afflicted a member of my family–and Deb21 [I’ve changed her handle to protect the innocent ] wants to chat. A little photo box pops up on my screen, with the icky solicitation “I’m online! Chat with me now!” There’s even an audible little ping whenever she implores me to spend some time with her.

iMedix social search

Welcome to iMedix, a “social search” site in the personal health space.

In concept, social search is powerful: Combine the algorithmically valid but brain-dead health search results of a typical search engine with the “wisdom of the crowds”–the aggregated opinions of real humans who can validate the information they found worthwhile when dealing with the same issue. Add to that the ability to connect with those people, and (goes the theory) you’ve got something good.

Like any 2.0 community, iMedix faces the challenge of creating critical mass: A community with nobody home is in a death spiral from Day One. But building critical mass from scratch is no small task in mid-2008: Early adopters are oversubscribed to social networks and the mainstream hasn’t figured out what all the fuss is about. Every business based on network power needs people. A lot of them. Fast.

Which brings us back to Deb21. iMedix seems to be trying a bit too hard to get people to join the party, dispatching its youthful crowd to flag folks into the front door.

First it was Ann, a comely 29-year-old community manager interested in fitness and lifestyle. I acquiesced to her friend request but haven’t heard from her since.

I accepted friendship with a fellow calling himself neurosurgeon_55, figuring it’s never a bad idea to know a brain surgeon. But then I discovered he’s a 17-year-old guy in India, whose personal statement reads, in part:

Then we will ve a lots of chat (humourous)but valuable beniffitng both of us in the long run so what r u thinking of? Hmmmmmmmm..lets go ahead and chat.Yo man!!

An unsettling number of people who have set up profiles in iMedix are attractive and young and look, at least to these middle-aged eyes, like the happy-go-lucky group with cool haircuts and great teeth you see in ads for premium liquors.

Here is the problem: People with health problems have, well. . .health problems. They want to see that people like them, people who have something valuable to share, are in a community.

You will certainly find these people at iMedix: There’s a 53-year-old woman whose college age daughter has bipolar and is an abusive relationship. Good lord, the woman needs help. Call me too fast to judgment, but I don’t think neurosurgeon_55 is the guy to offer her support and guidance.

To be fair: iMedix is in beta. It appears they’ve seeded the site with the folks they have around–their young staff and (it appears) their social network contacts.

Building a 2.0 health community is hard. Not many people have gotten it right, and the very concept is fraught with danger. But social networks are based on the company they keep. And no matter who that company is, in the health space I’m not sure they should jump onto your screen saying “I’m online! Chat with me now!”

As for the search part of the social search: The information on tinnitus was really pretty good, better than what Brother Google served up on page one. Link number one was a direct hit.

Along the way I found the profile of someone named Niroo. She is 24 and says she has hearing loss and is interested in tinnitus. She lives in Iran. I sent her an e-mail. Haven’t heard from her yet. [#]

Punchline, added 5/19/2008

Seven days after writing the entry above, I received the following message in my iMedix mailbox.

Dearest One,
My name is Miss Ashandy,i am a single girl never marrie i saw your profile today at (www.imedix.com)Ashandy100@yahoo.com) and became intrested in you,i will also like to know you the more,and i want you to send an email to my email address so i can give you my picture
for (i believe we can move from here.
I am waiting for your mail to my email address above.Miss Ashandy (Remeber the distance or colour does not matter but love matters alot in life
Yours Lover
Miss Ashandy Rolland

Wikipedia: Time to Pull the Plug

24, April, 2008

There are many good reasons to deplore Wikipedia, not the least of which is its authors’ cultish smuggery about the righteousness of their cause and the rightness of their content.

Of course there is also its internecine complexity of processes. The documentation tracing the petty bitchery about an entry is often longer than the entry that is produced. The international collectivist negotiation over matters of “fact” is beginning to remind me of the United Nations, but without the fancy New York headquarters.

A recent post by e-health blogger John Grohol left me steaming anew about the nature of the entire enterprise.

The piece details a series of exchanges between a Wikipedia editor and Gilles Frydman, head of the non-profit cancer support community ACOR. The issue was the collective’s refusal to permit links to health-related support groups.

The post includes only one side of the story, and that filtered through the articulate vitriol of Grohol. So I can’t vouch for the details of the exchange. But it is accurate that Wikipedia does not permit links to support groups. [See relevant policy excerpt at end of entry.] On reflection, this astonishes me:

1. Wikipedia is designed to harness the collective intelligence of many individuals, an example of the the classic web 2.0 “wisdom of the crowds.”

2. Online support forums are designed to harness the collective intelligence of many individuals, the classic web 2.0 “wisdom of the crowds.”

Wikipedia leverages the wisdom of the crowds one way. Online support forums do so another way. But Wikipedia won’t assign value to the other–in fact as a matter of policy it pointedly excludes it. Which is to say: The power of the many is a powerful force to disseminate knowledge–except when it’s not.

The hypocrisy is remarkable. To cite just one sad example: The Wikipedia entry on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig/Stephen Hawking disease) is workmanlike. It includes references to mainstream groups like the ALS Foundation. It even includes, god help us, a link to that font of scientific dispassion, the Ride for Life.

But it is utterly silent on the powerful ALS community of PatientsLikeMe, an unusually ambitious patient (and provider) experience- and data-sharing site. To say it serves folks who need to know about ALS far better than Wikipedia–and that it offers a greater amount of authoritative current knowledge–is to understate.

Yet Wikipedia excludes it because it is an online support group, not because it is unworthy. Wikipedia has decided–for expedience? for ideological reasons? for self-interest?–to exclude information not on the merits of an individual source but due to its information class.

It’s a sort of info-bigotry, an attempt to exclude a minority deemed less worthy based entirely on class, not merits. And Wikipedia is itself part of a larger class, web 2.0, which itself suffers similar discrimination!

If we are to exclude one style of responsibly gathering collective wisdom, should we exclude them all? Or–here’s an idea–maybe we should judge individual sources on their merits.

The trouble is, so many people around the world link to Wikipedia, it rides at the top of nearly every topic search results page. This only increases its use and ubiquity, if not hegemony. Its decisions to include and exclude data are magnified across the information universe.

I’m wondering if it’s time for concerned web citizens to stop linking to Wikipedia. If this were to catch on, it would have the effect of diminishing its ubiquity, allowing it to recede to its proper role: a useful but limited, and often deeply flawed, source of information. Just like an online support group, only bigger, and with a chip on its shoulder.

I know, of course, that this is trying to sweep back the sea with a broom. To draw on that U.N. metaphor, maybe it’s time for a different kind of collective action: Wikipedia out of the web. The web out of Wikipedia.

See a continuing conversation about the role of social media in health at this recent post at The Health Care Blog.

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[Wikipedia linking policy on support groups. Note the sniff of condescension implicit in the second paragraph. And note how the Awareness and Fundraising Events sections in its medical articles clearly violate this policy!:]

“Wikipedia’s external links policy and the specific guidelines for medicine-related articles do not permit the inclusion of external links to non-encyclopedic material, particularly including: patient support groups, personal experience/survivor stories, internet chat boards, e-mail discussion groups, recruiters for clinical trials, healthcare providers, fundraisers, or similar pages.

“Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not an advertising opportunity or a support group for patients or their families. Please do not re-insert links that do not conform to the standard rules.”

Google vs. Microsoft at the Health 2.0 Spring Fling

11, March, 2008

Here’s a reprint (with modifications) of a story of mine that appeared in The Washington Post today. Based on my recent visit to the Health 2.0 “Spring Fling” conference in San Diego, hosted by the brilliant and beautiful Matthew Holt and Indu Subayia, it runsdown what appears to be shaping up between Google and Microsoft in the consumer-PHR-platform space.

I’ll be adding other entries about Health 2.0 products in the coming days and weeks.

Microsoft HealthVault vs. Google Health

By Craig Stoltz, Special to The Washington Post

Personal health records, or PHRs, were the buzz at last week’s Health 2.0 Spring Fling conference in San Diego — especially recent entries by Google and Microsoft that have the rest of the industry energized, focused and at least a little bit frightened.

Bill Reid, director of Microsoft’s HealthVault program, described the effort to integrate information technology into personal health care as a “long journey. We’re just at the front end of the process.” Was this an acknowledgment of the complexity of the task ahead? Or a a shrewd way to reduce expectations about the software giant’s big investment?
Based on the tenor of the Health 2.0 conference–a high-energy gathering of great minds, big ideas and entrepreneurial hustlers–it may be both. In addition to Google and Microsoft, dozens of companies presented online products designed to make U.S. health care smarter, stronger and better looking. There was a plan by a firm called Organized Wisdom to offer online doctor consults at $1.99 per minute, a provider search tool pitched as “the match.com of health care,” and an electronic medical record by a firm called Myca that made you want to bask in the sheer beauty of ear infection data.
Here’s a look at where Microsoft’s and Google’s personal health record programs are now and where they may be headed.
What Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health have in common:

* Both companies claim the same ultimate goals: To create integrated online environments where you can create and store your personal records, get information, find doctors, make medical appointments, communicate online, manage medications, share information with providers and more. Oh, and with Microsoft and Google, there’s always that other goal: to dominate the world.

* Both put users in control over what goes into the record and who has access to it. If there’s something you’d rather not share with your employer, insurance company or anyone else, leave it out.

* Both are free Web-based services, meaning you can access the records without cost from any computer. The services are described as being as secure as online banking. Both companies pledge not to share your information without your explicit permission.

* Both offer tailored searches that promise to filter out garbage and surface the gold.

Microsoft HealthVault:

Debut: October 2007.

The story so far: Microsoft has assembled a list of companies that make products (glucometers, blood pressure monitors) or offer services (software that pulls in data from labs, hospitals, etc.) compatible with HealthVault. Use one of them, and data from the lab or your home blood pressure cuff automatically gets sucked into your HealthVault PHR. If you aren’t using one of these products or services, though, the only way to create your record now is by uploading existing documents — a recent page of bloodwork results, say — from your computer.

Follow the money: Microsoft plans to make money by placing ads next to HealthVault search results. As with any search, some are text ads generated by keywords. Some are interactive ads promoting HeathVault-compatible devices or services. Some offer related books and products from Amazon. Anyone can use the HealthVault search, but if you want to save your results privately (a nice feature), you’ll need to sign up for a free HealthVault account.

Curious observation: HealthVault’s search results are sometimes riddled with information from interested sources (supplement makers!?!) and below-gold-standard publishers. Do I really need a tailored, secure search to find a Wikipedia article on arthritis?

Google Health

Unveiled: February 2008.

The story so far: The first live-action test of Google’s PHR is a pilot project with Cleveland Clinic launched last month and expected to run six to eight weeks. Screen shots of the service suggest people can create their own PHRs via simple forms with check boxes and pull-down menus. Like Microsoft, Google plans to offer the ability to automatically pull in data (for example, X-rays and readouts from a pedometer) from devices, services and health-care providers. Google is encouraging use of open technology standards that will let the health world’s many different information systems talk to each other easily.

Follow the money: Google doesn’t rule out the possibility of selling ads alongside search results or other Google Health services but says it has no current plans to do so.

Next steps: After the Cleveland Clinic pilot, Google says it will digest what it has learned and move toward launch. No date is set.

Curious observation: So why would Google take on such a big, difficult project — creating complex data exchange systems and storing all that personal information — if there’s no way to make money? Data show more than 70 percent of people seeking health-care information turn first to Google. A strong personal health dashboard linked to other Google services, including its cash-cow search business, can make sure those health-seekers stay with Google rather than with the competition. Like Microsoft, for instance.

HealthCentral PoliGraph, Cont’d.

23, January, 2008

When I committed the sin of self-promotion by writing about the HealthCentral Healthcare08 PoliGraph, in which I had a hand, I really had no idea I’d need to come back to the topic.

But the project, which plots the presidential condenders’ healthcare views on a snazzy interactive graph, has generated a bit of controversy in electroland. I’ve responded on the HealthCareBlog site (to which I have recently been invited to contribute), where most of the comments have collected.

See also a very thoughtful (if deeply critical) analysis at Ezra Klein’s excellent American Prospect blog.