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Tag: Apps

The New HPV Guidelines. Balancing Benefits and Harms of Cervical Cancer Screening

It’s fitting that this year’s ACOG meeting was held in New Orleans, because navigating the 2013 ASCCP Pap Smear Management Guidelines presented there feels like trying to make my way through the Mississippi bayou. The guidelines include 18 different algorithms encompassing almost any combination of pap and HPV abnormality we docs are likely to encounter among our patients.  But all tributaries lead to the same place, where we achieve optimal reduction in cervical cancer with minimal harm.

Cervical cancer prevention is a process with benefits and harms. Risk cannot be reduced to zero with currently available strategies, and attempts to achieve zero risk may result in unbalanced harms, including over treatment. …optimal prevention strategies should identify those HPV-related abnormalities likely to progress to invasive cancers while avoiding destructive treatment of abnormalities not destined to become cancerous. Adopted management strategies provide what participants considered an acceptable level of risk of failing to detect high-grade neoplasia or cancer in a given clinical situation.

I’m not even going to try to spell out everything in the guidelines, which come from the American Society of Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP), except to say that they represent further movement away from aggressive screening and treatment of pap smear abnormalities, especially in younger women, in whom treatment carries small but real childbearing risks. The guidelines are increasingly reliant upon HPV testing to determine who and how often to screen, and when to treat.  They also acknowledge the role of testing for HPV 16 and 18 as a way to be sure that those women with adenocarcinoma of the cervix (which is less likely to show up as cancer on a pap smear) are identified and treated.

From the guidelines-
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The Real Problem with Board Exams-and How to Solve It

This week there’s been a debate brewing about why so many young doctors are failing their board exams. On one side John Schumann writes that young clinicians may not have the time or study habits to engage in lifelong learning, so they default to “lifelong googling.” On the other, David Shaywitz blames the tests themselves as being outmoded rites of passage administered by guild-like medical societies. He poses the question: Are young doctors failing their boards, or are we failing them?

The answer is: (C) All of the above.

I can say this with high confidence because as a young doctor-in-training who just completed my second year of medical school, I’ve become pretty good at answering test questions. Well before our White Coat Ceremonies, medical students have been honed into lean, mean, test-taking machines by a series of now-distant acronyms: AP, SAT, ACT, MCAT. Looming ahead are even more acronyms, only these are slightly longer and significantly more expensive: NBME, COMLEX, USMLE, ABIM. Even though their letters and demographics differ, what each of these acronyms share is the ability to ideologically divide a room in less time than Limbaugh.

This controversy directly results from the clear dichotomy* between the theory behind the exams and their practical consequences. In theory these exams do serve necessary and even agreeable purposes, including:

1)     Ensuring a minimum body of knowledge or skill before advancing a student to the next level in her education,

2)     Providing an “objective” measure to compare applicants in situations where demand for positions exceeds supply.

So apart from the common, albeit inconvenient, side effects that students experience (fatigue, irritability, proctalgia), what are the problems with these tests in practice? These are five of the core issues that are cited as the basis for reformations to our current examination model:

1)     Lack of objectivity. Tests are created by humans and thus are inherently biased. While they aim to assess a broad base of knowledge or skills, performance can be underestimated not due to a lack of this base but due to issues with the testing format, such as duration, question types, and scoring procedure (e.g. the SAT penalizes guessers, whereas the ACT does not). Just as our current model of clinical trial testing is antithetical to personalized medicine (What is a standard dose? Or, more puzzlingly, a standard patient?), our current model of testing does not take into account these individual differences.

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Will the “Instagram for Clinicians” Be a Game-Changing Educational Resource?

Working with clinicians to set up forums where care teams would discuss their patients daily, I was privy to the excited eyes and cheshire cat smiles that accompanied the talk of “woah” patients – the medically rare, gross, or otherwise notable cases which made the day a bit more interesting. The patient with Anton-Babinski Syndrome. The child whose amputated hand was proof he shouldn’t have been playing with an axe. The all-too-common gunshot wounds of every type, notable for their stories more than the wounds.

With the release of Figure 1, a photo-sharing app for health care professionals, those conversations can leave the hospital and enter the cloud; physicians can upload a picture to their feed, and it’ll be instantly available to the world. It’s Instagram for health care workers, except instead of filtered “selfies” and pictures of brunch, it has pictures of rare medical conditions and x-rays of things inserted where they shouldn’t be. It’s a new, neat idea that could change the face of medical education or serve as stress-relieving entertainment. Or both.

Dr. Joshua Landy, co-founder at Movable Sciences, said in an email interview that he created Figure 1 to fill a gap he identified in clinician-to-clinician communication. Currently, “many physicians collect images of interesting or representative cases on their smartphones,” and share with colleagues. Sensing an opportunity, and “recognizing the educational benefit of these images,” Landy created an app that would “harness thousands of educational assets being collected by individuals each day.”

The app opened to the public three weeks ago, and has a user base “well into the thousands,” Landy said. Anyone can download it, but only health care professionals can upload images; once vetted, physicians will have a “Verified Physician” badge on their profiles. Users can search for images of specific conditions and have conversations with others through a commenting feature – which Landy said has already been used as a virtual classroom, with “experienced healthcare professionals answering questions for medical students.”

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What if Google Does It?

I’m a nerd. Instead of watching Hollywood movies, I watched the entirety of Google’s 3.5 hour keynote from their recent developer conference, Google IO. I really appreciate watching and learning from technology companies operating at spectacular scale. They put on quite a show (at least for geeks like me).

One hour and eighteen minutes (the link should take you the right spot in the video) into the keynote, Google executives unveiled new discovery and curation features for the Android Play Store for apps for teachers to use in class. Google hired a team of educational content experts to review and curate in-class apps. Google will release certified apps to a special section of the Android Play Store that educational IT staff and teachers can peruse.

Google will also provide tools for educational IT admins to centrally manage and distribute those apps throughout the school per teacher, class, grade level, and more. Google is dramatically simplifying IT management in large bureaucratic organizations that can’t attract top IT talent. This is a godsend for teachers who have wanted to deploy apps in class, but who haven’t had the necessary IT support.

This is a brilliant concept. In highly regulated, slow changing industries such as healthcare and education, the biggest barriers to adopting and integrating third-party apps into the core workflows are fear of inaccurate information and IT distribution and management challenges. Google is doing a tremendous favor for the educational system. This move will materially improve the uptake of in-class apps.

Obviously, this begs the question, “Why doesn’t Google do the same thing for healthcare?” Happtique and Healthtap recognized this need some time ago. They’re curating apps and providing IT infrastructure services to help manage and distribute those apps to employees along different job functions, roles, locations, etc.

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Self-Care and Caregiving Apps Development

Have I gotten to the end of the beginning in developing tools that help people take care of themselves?

With the recent release of Unfrazzle, an app for caregivers, I believe I have. Unfrazzle builds upon the learnings of Zume Life and Tonic, earlier apps I developed. There were key lessons from hundreds of users and family caregivers that influenced Unfrazzle’s product design, driving it in directions very different from and hopefully much more useful than what you might expect.

These key lessons, explored in more detail below, I group into three themes:

  • Care regimens constantly vary, and so tools must accommodate such variation
  • We live in a network of mutual caregiving, and simple notions of “the patient” or “caregiver–care recipient” match few people’s reality
  • Living, yes living, is much more important than adherence
  • For those unfamiliar with Unfrazzle, here’s a brief description:It is an iPhone app (Android coming soon) that helps users remember and keep track of anything they do to take care of themselves and their family (parents, friends, children, pets), and to stay in-sync with other caregivers in their family. Unfrazzle is a Design-It-Yourself app — it essentially provides a platform, a framework that the user then shapes to meet his own ever-changing needs.

    If that sounds clear as mud, try this: take your favorite pill reminder app, and imagine that you can change all the screens and forms to accommodate any health & wellness activity (not just pills but also other things such as exercises, moods, symptoms, observations, and chores). Then imagine that you can share any of your data with others also using the app, so that you can see each other’s entries. Imagine you can even allow others to make entries for you, then you’ve got the gist of Unfrazzle.

    Care Regimens Constantly Vary

    From the start,  beginning with Zume Life, our focus has been on making it easier for people to remember and track their health regimens. We began by targeting a simple, logistical problem — in our busy lives it is easy to forget little details.

    Our idea was that adherence would be improved if we had a memory aid.

    Our tool had to be somewhat flexible, because we took the approach that we could not possibly know everything a person might be doing for his health. For example, allowing a person to include their supplements in their list of medications, and not just their prescriptions.

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    The Smartphone Physical

    What if the next time you step into your doctor’s office for an examination, she reaches into her white coat pocket and pulls out an iPhone instead of a stethoscope? That’s the idea behind The Smartphone Physical, a re-imagination of the physical exam using only smartphones and a few devices that connect to them. These include a weight scale, blood pressure cuff, pulse oximeter, ophthalmoscope, otoscope, spirometer, ECG, stethoscope, and ultrasound. Want to know more? I’ve answered some questions here for THCB. And have a few myself.

    What are the pros and cons of using smartphones for clinical data collection?

    Smartphone penetration in virtually every market has exceeded expectations, and healthcare is no exception. More than 80% of physicians in the US have smartphones, and of those three-quarters use them at work. Much of this is currently personal communication, but increasingly physicians are using smartphones as reference tools; between 30-40% report using their smartphones for clinical decision support. It seems like a logical next step to go beyond reference apps and to start using peripheral devices, such as cases that convert the smartphone into an ECG or otoscope as well as peripherals such as pulse oximeters and ultrasound probes, for easy and reliable data collection.

    At TEDMED we found that using our smartphones and the clinical devices actually improved our ability to engage with the “patient,” because we were able to share and explain the physical exam findings directly at the point of care. We could take a quick snapshot of the carotid arteries and tympanic membrane and, for the first time ever, show the patient what theirs looked like and field any questions they may have. Ideally in the near future we’d be able to go one step further and upload this data to the patient record. That is one of the most powerful aspects of the Smartphone Physical because we will be able to establish baselines for individuals. For example, instead of the current model of a primary care ophthalmologic exam, where a physician will write “W.N.L” or “unremarkable” for a patient without a concerning optic disc finding, we will be able to take and store an actual image of what the patient’s optic disc looked like at an earlier time-point. This may be particularly useful for patients who present years later with concerning visual changes.

    Furthermore, smartphone-based collection of clinically-relevant data will help patients become their own data collectors. This may abstract away the mundane and standardize the unreliable aspects of the physical exam, and allow for trending data that needs to be taken in context and not just at once-yearly visits (e.g. blood pressure, temperature, etc).

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    Validating Mrs. X

    Mrs. X is a 46 year-old mother of two and wife to an Iraq war veteran. On this particular day she meets with her oncologist to follow up after treatment for skin cancer. Beyond her well-groomed hair, thick plastic framed glasses and coral-red manicured toes, she doesn’t have a clear agenda for her appointment and expectations have only been vaguely outlined. However, this will change.

    Wired Magazine asked Mucca Design in 2010 to reimagine the blood test report and the result was an inspiring new way of communicating with patient. 2011 marked the launch of the Tricoder X-Prize worth $10 million supported by X-Prize Foundation and Qualcomm.  The goal is to bring to life the fictional Star Trek multifunctional handheld medical device that can scan, analyze and produce results with a goal to diagnose patients better than or equal to a panel of board certified physicians. And while 2012 launched a series of new medical innovations that leverage the power of the mobile device, 2013 will be a time to bring together these technologies into a web of interconnectedness.

    In 2013, Mrs. X and her mobile device will have access to a digital medical record that gives access to prior appointment notes, recorded videos from remote mobile appointments with her team of physicians, and yesterday’s blood work results. New innovations in medicine will create a foundation for Mrs. X to have better access to care, translate her behavior into actionable data all being tied together to provide what is most important: validation.

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    Driving Front Line Innovation In Health Care

    Jennifer Stinson was a nurse at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto who enjoyed brainstorming new ideas for improving care, especially for the kids with cancer she treats. But even as she gained status by getting her PhD and becoming a clinician scientist, she came up against persistent bureaucratic and organizational barriers to innovation.

    Stinson’s challenge is common at big organizations, but overcoming bureaucracy and breaking down silos is especially critical in healthcare. To tackle these obstacles at SickKids, CEO Mary Jo Haddad in 2010 elevated innovation to a “strategic direction,” and engaged Innosight to help devise a full system needed to spur innovation. The resulting system has three major components:

    1. An Innovation blueprint detailing the types of innovations the organization wants to encourage. SickKids prioritized encouraging doctors, nurses and clinicians to look for unmet needs they could address, rather than wait for solutions from IT or top management. That required creating a focus group with 25 front-line healthcare workers to discover and catalog key “jobs to be done” (like reducing the length of hospital visits), surveying all 5,000 employees, and training most of them on how to integrate the innovation system into their daily practices.
    2. An innovation pipeline to reliably take ideas from concept to reality. This involved establishing a new 18-member Central Innovation Group of leaders from different areas of the hospital, a team that was tasked with prioritizing and advancing ideas and projects through various stages. The team helped innovators test prototypes, make adjustments, and then scale to a wider population.
    3. An innovation culture that features the right people, in the right roles, speaking a common language of innovation. A key enabler of this culture was the establishment of a $250,000 Innovation Fund to provide seed money for promising ideas. Now, instead of being stalled by permission hurdles that suppress initiative, promising new ideas could be funded, fast-tracked and prototyped.

    Consider how the new system helped Stinson bring a transformative innovation to life. Every year at SickKids, thousands of children are battling various forms of cancer. It’s vital that they keep accurate diaries tracking their pain, but if it’s not done daily the data are virtually worthless. Typically these diaries must be filled out by hand, an annoying task that children with cancer aren’t motivated to do. The result is poor reporting and suboptimal pain management.

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    The Economics of Google Glass in Healthcare


    A lot of people think Google Glass can be used as a development platform to create amazing healthcare apps. So do I.

    Many of these ideas are relatively obvious, and many of them could be relatively simple to develop. But we won’t see most of them commercialize in the first year Glass is on the market. Maybe even 2 years. Why?

    The most obvious analogy to Glass is the iPhone. It’s a revolutionary new technology platform with an incredible new user interface. Glass practically begs the iPhone analogy. Technologically, the analogy has the potential to hold true. But economically, it does not. Because of the economics of Glass, many of these great ideas won’t see the light of day anytime soon.

    First, there’s the cost. Glass will run a cool $1500 when it lands in the US this holiday season. The most obvious analogy to Glass is the iPhone. It’s a revolutionary new technology platform with an incredible new user interface. Glass practically begs the iPhone analogy. Technologically, the analogy has the potential to hold true. But economically, it does not. Because of the economics of Glass, many of these great ideas won’t see the light of day anytime soon. There’s no opportunity for a subsidy because Glass doesn’t have native cellular capabilities.

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    App Prescribing: The Future of Patient-Centered Care

    Dr. Leslie Kernisan recently wrote a great piece about app prescribing, asking, “Should I be prescribing apps, and if so, which ones?” Since Happtique is all about integrating apps into clinical practice, I jumped at the chance to add to this important discussion.

    Dr. Kernisan is right to be concerned and somewhat skeptical about app prescribing. More than 40,000 health apps exist across multiple platforms. And unlike other aspects of the heavily-regulated healthcare marketplace, there is little to no barrier to entry into the health app market—so basically anyone with an idea and some programming skills can build a mobile health app. The easy entry into the app market offers incredible opportunity for healthcare innovation; however, the open market comes with certain serious concerns, namely, “how credible are the apps I am (or my patients are) using?”

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