Eradicating ignorance

We take vaccines for granted. We get our shots as kids and forget about the process until we have children of our own. In the Western Hemisphere, we generally don’t see the diseases that plague the Third World. We call them preventable.

A hundred years ago, the science of immunology was struggling, and so were its advocates. Just before Dr. Richard Slee was born in 1867, the French biologist Louis Pasteur had proven the germ theory of disease. It wasn’t until 1885 that Pasteur field tested his vaccine for rabies.

Twelve years later, when Slee built his laboratory to manufacture smallpox vaccine in Swiftwater, Pennsylvania, the disease was still considered a major threat to public health. It would not be eradicated worldwide until 1980. To complicate the issue, the technology of the time caused some of those patients to become ill. Because of those adverse reactions, vaccines of the time stimulated fear as well as immunity.

Some things haven’t change.

In Minnesota, 73 cases of measles have been confirmed this year, three more than the Spirit of Swiftwatertotal for the entire country last year, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Minnesota Department of Health.

The CDC and the World Health Organization also are concerned with the rise in the number of cases of mumps, polio, rubella, whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

How did Dr. Slee manage to eradicate smallpox in America? And how has the science of infectious-disease prevention progressed over the last century?

You can follow the struggles and triumphs of the people who shaped modern medicine in The Spirit of Swiftwater, a history of vaccine development in the twentieth century. The book chronicles the pioneers of immunization who fought against the odds to establish this form of health care as standard public policy in America, with a focus on the U.S. operations of sanofi pasteur, the vaccines business of sanofi-aventis Group. Reviewers describe the work as “a thoroughly documented historical perspective of the vaccine industry in the US as seen through the history of one of its leading contributors that is also entertaining reading.”

Now, if you’re really ready for a Horatio Alger story with a medical spin, take a look at One in a Million by Mary G. Clark. In this ghosted memoir, Mary tells the story of how she took her wound-care company from the coal fields of Scranton, Pa. to the NASDAQ. The book starts with a touch of mysticism and ends with science, a fitting story for our times.

The infectious prediction of thrillers

Some writers land in the right place at the right time. Others anticipate, showing us what life might look like in a few years if things go horribly wrong. Many of the near-futurists build their plots on epidemics. Bob Reiss (Black Monday) did it with oil. Patricia Gussin (Weapon of Choice) does it with biologics.

In Gussin’s novel, published in 2012 but set in 1985, thoracic surgeon Dr. Laura Nelson gets caught in a medical and bureaucratic firestorm when a fast-moving staph infection spreads through her hospital at the same time the facility receives its first AIDS patient. Aside from delivering a decent thriller, the author shows what happens when antibiotic-resistant infections spread, and how hospitals and agencies such as the CDC must work quickly to contain the disease.

Weapon-of-Choice-3DSince Gussin is not only a physician but the former vice president of consumer pharmaceuticals at healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson, she writes with great detail . . . and frightening authority. Frightening because people can use these microbes as weapons.

All of which leads us to the latest crisis in healthcare, the threat of an Ebola pandemic. People worry about travel and transmission. Writers evoke images of the plague. Institutions scramble to contain, treat and reassure.

In Gussin’s book, she details CDC protocols for isolation and decontamination. Have they improved since 1985? Do they work as well in airports as they do in books?

When you look into the near future, what do you see?

Getting a grip on the grippe

You’ve had an inoculation and you’re still concerned about contracting the flu. Aside from living in a bubble or wearing a mask, technology can only do so much to protect you. If you do get sick, these three smartphone apps might help speed relief.

  • iTriage. The app lets you diagnose symptoms, identify an illness and book an appointment with the appropriate doctor. HCA West Florida Division uses iTriage to promote its 15 hospitals, including Blake Medical Center, Doctors Hospital of Sarasota and Englewood Community Hospital. Sarasota Memorial Health Care System uses AppBrain to provide users with a dynamic listing of its services, locations and physicians. Venice Regional Medical Center uses ER Extra to let users see the current emergency room wait time for the hospital and receive a map and directions to the facility.
  • RXmindMe Prescription. The app tells users when to take their medicine and offers nine types of reminders, from daily and weekly to a customizable schedule.
  • ZocDoc. A more social version than the others, ZocDoc allows users to check a doctor’s availability, view his or her credentials and rate the experience after the visit.

If that doesn’t work, take two aspirin and have the smartphone call you in the morning.

Jeff Widmer is a PR and social media strategist.

iTriage X

3 Steps to Creating Social Networks

I’d just finished writing a social media strategy for a rather large healthcare company when my client asked: how are we going to implement this?

One step at a time.

A week later I think we have a solid plan for launching the network, first with employees, then with their customers and prospects. While developing those tactics I’ve come to a few conclusions—three to be exact.

  1. Promote the network. If you build it, will anyone show? Not unless you publicize it. Actively connect to, follow or like the key opinion leaders and media in your industry. And don’t rule out help from the other marketing disciplines—media planning, web development, public relations and direct marketing. Depending on your industry, an integrated, balanced campaign can drive traffic more effectively than an all-digital approach.
  2. Create your own content. Once you’ve attracted an audience you’ll need to work to keep visitors engaged. Providing original content, and allowing visitors to add their own material, will give them a reason to return.
  3. Measure the results. Whether you’re working with for-profit or non-profit organizations, buy-in is essential. Senior management looks for progress over time. Define realistic metrics and deliver them.

Jeff Widmer is a PR and social media strategist.

stairs X

Emergency? Who You Gonna Call?

Payphones have gone the way of steam engines and spats. Concern about security has not. Colleges have responded by installing emergency call stations known for their blue lights. Adults old enough to remember rotary phones can use their landlines and lifelines.

Leave it to the Internet generation to develop an alternative.

Security apps for smartphones have become a booming business. They provide a wide range of functions, from receiving emergency notifications to connecting you with commercial monitoring teams through a subscription service. Apple’s App Store alone lists 98 apps in the emergency-alert category.

What’s your best bet if you want to use your smartphone as a mobile substitute for blue-light boxes? Here’s a short list of apps, some free, some not, starting with passive software and advancing toward interactive systems.

  • CodeRED Mobile Alert. Designed to keep you informed, this app taps into the national CodeRED Emergency Notification System to alter subscribers of public safety issues.
  • Emergency. The utility allows the direct dialing to four main emergency services (general, fire, police, medical).
  • SOS Panic Button. This app features a large panic button that, when pressed, will use the phone’s GPS tracking feature to notify friends and family of your location by telephone and email.
  • Bluelight. The app notifies your friends and family when you don’t arrive at your destination as planned.
  • SOS Response. This is for users who want their smartphones to act more like hardwired home alarm and blue-light systems. The app sends photos and GPS information to a monitoring team, who then alert responders.
  • MyForce. Another subscription-based service, this app sends reports to alarm monitors who, the developer says, will connect to 911 dispatchers “after an emergency is validated.”

A word of caution about the technology. Anyone can use a blue-light emergency call button or home-alarm system. Only those who can afford a smartphone and the monthly fee can access some of these subscription services. And what happens if your phone can’t find a signal?

 

Entrepreneurs never say die

The headline reads “Small Business Owners Fear Being Unable to Retire.” But according to a survey done last year by the financial services industry, the opposite may be true.

Nearly two-thirds of small business owners fear outliving the money they need to retire, according to a poll from the Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute. Yet many of the 1,433 small business owners surveyed expect to live well into their retirement years, with one in three saying they plan to retire after age 70. Nearly one in seven plan to work part-time in retirement while 10 percent expect to work full-time.

“In many cases, small business owners keep working because they love what they are doing and don’t see the point of retiring,” said Patricia G. Greene, a professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College. “It’s hard for many of them to think what life would be like without (running) the business.”

Sarasota, Florida entrepreneur Martha Nikla agrees. The jewelry designer and owner of Beauty & the Beads has watched too many retirees fade with their careers.

“My mother and many of her friends, wealthy Sarasota retirees, regretted giving up their entrepreneurial businesses and longed to be ‘in the mix.’ According to them, working provided a reason to get up in the morning, a structure to the day, a sense of accomplishment, a way to remain current with technology and societal sensibilities, and was life extending. Playing bridge and eating rubber chicken lunches at the club proved to be a very hollow experience for many of these elderly ladies . . . so much energy and experience untapped. Their advice: never retire, never give up your business.”

Going online for a lifeline

Nearly nine in ten caregivers with Internet access use the technology to find health information to help them with their duties. That’s a large pool of people: 30 percent of U.S. adults help someone with personal needs, household chores, finances and services.

The statistics come from the Pew Research Center, which conducted a national telephone survey conducted in September 2010. The survey was released this month.

“Caregivers are significantly more likely than other Internet users to say that their last search for health information was on behalf of someone else—67 percent vs. 54 percent,” Pew reports. “Just 29 percent of online caregivers say their last search was solely focused on their own health or medical situation, compared with 40 percent of non-caregivers who go online for health information.”

Pew defines the cohort as those caring for an adult, such as a parent or spouse. A small subset of the group cares for a child living with a disability or long-term health issue.

The center found that eight in ten caregivers (79 percent) have access to the Internet. Of those, 88 percent look online for health information, outpacing other Internet users on every health initiative included in the survey, from researching treatments to rating hospital to making end-of-life decisions.

How do you use the Internet to care for others?

America gets its information on the fly

Nearly 9 in 10 smartphone owners use their devices for consumer research. They are using them to perform real-time searches to help arrange meetings with friends, solve problems or find information to settle an argument, according to a new study from the Pew Internet & American Life project.

Within the past 30 days, smartphone or cell phone owners said they used their phone to:

  • Decide whether to visit a business, such as a restaurant.
  • Look up a score of a sporting event.
  • Get up-to-the-minute traffic or public transit information to find the fastest way to get somewhere.

“The growing adaptation and functionality of smartphones has made them more entrenched in users’ daily lives,” The Pew center said. “Just-in-time cell users — defined as anyone who has done one or more of the activities above using their phones in the preceding 30 days — now comprise 62% of the adult population.”

Such real-time queries will have implications for organizations from financial services and healthcare institutions to B2C companies that want to reach consumers before they initiate a search.

Happy Nurses Week, Y’all

It’s Nurses Week, time to pay tribute to the people who keep us on our feet. For me it’s more than a Hallmark event. Our daughter graduates from nursing school in a year and has learned from the inside the rigors of the profession . . . as well as the value of digital charting. She’s opened our eyes to the importance of the profession.

We used to have luncheons and speeches to feat the troops. Social media has given us a more dispersed and immediate way. Sarasota Memorial in Sarasota, Florida is honoring staff on its Facebook page with tributes and a button to “Thank a nurse.” And the folks at HCA are giving a shout-out to their nurses in a humorous way. Here’s the video posted on the corporate site.

Social fever: tracking your health

As part of its 12 trends for 2012 Trendwatching.com has published a list of tech products that enable the monitoring, tracking and sharing of an individual’s health information. It’s called DIY health and it’s going to be big this year.

With the aid of a smartphone users can monitor and potentially diagnose issues with complete privacy, without visiting a healthcare provider. The irony is that the software will allow users to share that information with friends, family and physicians — and possibly device-makers and mobile-phone carriers.

What technology gives, technology takes away.

The gadgets include a wristband that tracks a user’s moving, eating and sleeping patterns; a cuff that plugs into an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch and takes the user’s blood pressure; and a trio of apps from Ford that allow in-car monitoring of chronic conditions such as diabetes and hay fever.

In case you think DIY health monitoring is a passing fad, Trendwatching says Apple’s App Store now offers 9,000 mobile health apps, a number that is expected to rise to 13,000 by the middle of the year.

Jawbone personal health and fitness bracelet