The Future of Big Data in Healthcare and News for Flu Victims

According to an article in Business Insider, in the future, when you report symptoms to your doctor, they will be cross-checked with your community to see if there is a trend which might indicate an outbreak. And when your doctor recommends treatment, it will be after looking at what other doctors have seen success with for other patients with your diagnosis.

Using your smartphone to record instances where you had difficulty breathing will make it easier to give your doctor actual numbers rather than guesses.

Primary caregivers as well as hospitals are moving into a new information technology area where they will have to be alert to potential uses of big data and its potential pitfalls, not the least of which is ensuring the data is used wisely and a patient’s privacy is protected. Read the entire article here.

Universal Flu Virus?

A new study shows that there may soon be an immunization that will protect against several kinds of flu virus, rather than just the one that seems to be most going around during any given flu season.

Every year a flu vaccine is manufactured based on what strains are currently circulating and how they’re spreading. But in the near future, a virus may be released that can combat several different strains. The new vaccine is based on a ‘cocktail’ of antigens and the trials so far look very promising. Not only are multiple flu strains addressed, but the study shows that the vaccine is both effective in older mice and can offer protection for as long as six months. IFL Science breaks down the study and explains what it means here.

When Does Mobile App Data Become Medical Data?

The EU’s privacy watchdog, The Working Party, has set guidelines for when information gathered by mobile phone/tablet applications shades into medical data.

“When conclusions are drawn about someone’s health, regardless of their reliability, these conclusions are to be treated as health data,” it said. “There has to be a demonstrable relationship between the raw data set and the capacity to determine a health aspect of a person, based on the raw data itself or on the data in combination with data from other sources.”

(Read the whole article here.)

In the U.S., the FDA issued their final guidelines on mobile medical apps in 2013, saying that they were “tailored” to support innovation without compromising patient safety and privacy.

In a press release issued in September of that year, they said they focused on medical apps that:

  • are intended to be used as an accessory to a regulated medical device – for example, an application that allows a health care professional to make a specific diagnosis by viewing a medical image from a picture archiving and communication system (PACS) on a smartphone or a mobile tablet; or
  • transform a mobile platform into a regulated medical device – for example, an application that turns a smartphone into an electrocardiography (ECG) machine to detect abnormal heart rhythms or determine if a patient is experiencing a heart attack.

The FDA said that more than 130 comments were received during the commenting period and that opinion was overwhelming in favor of the tailored approach.

“We have worked hard to strike the right balance, reviewing only the mobile apps that have the potential to harm consumers if they do not function properly,” said Shuren. “Our mobile medical app policy provides app developers with the clarity needed to support the continued development of these important products.”

(Read the FDA’s finalized guidelines here.)

As a consumer of medical services with a concern over the easy availability of ‘private’ information on the internet, I will be giving the guidelines a close reading.

The New Yorker: The Holly and the I.V.

graph of emergency room visits related to Christmas decorations

The New Yorker has a great article on how getting jolly for the holidays can land you in the E.R. As you might guess, chair and ladder injuries top the list, but there are the interesting outliers like damage done by holding lights or ornaments in your mouth while decorating. According to author, Professor Ben Wellington, the E.R. is busiest between December 4th and December 7th, which may correspond to the most popular decorating days. Another bump between New Year’s Day and January 5th may correspond to the days the decorations are removed.

Traveling for the holidays has its pitfalls, but being home for the holidays is no guarantee of safety – particularly if you decorate for it.