Online crowdsourcing is a means to harness the combined knowledge of the crowd in order to arrive at solutions. It is understandable how crowdsourcing for medical diagnosis and advice came into being. Medicine in our current day is extremely specialized. There are many thousands of conditions and diseases, and doctors no longer have the comprehensive medical knowledge to recognize everything.
As reported in an article on Med Gadget, Jared Heyman, founder of the CrowdMed online medical crowdsourcing platform, claims that by the time the average patient comes to his site, he or she has seen 8 doctors during 6 years of illness and incurred more than $50,000 in medical expenses in an effort to have the condition correctly diagnosed and treated. Mr. Heyman also claims an 80% success rate for the accuracy of the diagnosis and treatment suggestions his site provides.
Nevertheless, there may be dangers associated with medical crowdsourcing. According to an article on Popular Science, the advice patients receive may not be accurate or even professional. The article states that CrowdMed patients pay a subscription fee to post their case histories and medical data anonymously on the site, after which “Medical Detectives” read the cases and interact with the patients directly. The site then uses patented methods to filter the input and produce a report for the patient, highlighting the top diagnosis and treatment suggestions from the highest rated Medical Detectives.
The problem is that these high-ranking Medical Detectives could be qualified physicians (who, nevertheless, have not personally examined the patient) or just average people with no medical credentials whatsoever. In the CrowdMed platform, Medical Detectives are ranked according to points they are awarded for contributing useful suggestions as to diagnosis and treatment, as reported by Popular Science. The article raises the question of whether CrowdMed’s platform could be construed as unauthorized practice of medicine.
Medical crowdsourcing does serve a purpose. HIT Consultant reports on a primary care physician who saved a young boy’s life by crowdsourcing on Sermo, a social networking site for doctors. The boy coughed up a branch-like mass that the physician did not recognize. Instead of waiting for lab results, the doctor posted a picture on Sermo, requesting insight from specialists and colleagues. Because of the diagnostic and treatment suggestions he received from other doctors, the physician promptly referred his patient to a cardiologist, who treated the young boy within two days and saved his life.
The situation described above involves doctors crowdsourcing from other doctors – not just any medically untrained individual. CrowdMed may provide a valuable service presenting diagnosis and treatment options in the form of suggestions only. Patients do need to be informed and have some input and control over their own bodies. Unfortunately, however, some patients may take these online suggestions as a valid medical diagnosis and advice. For valid medical care, it is important to consult with your own qualified physician with a hands-on, in-person, thorough medical examination.
Getting a CT scan, CAT scan, or MRI? You may have health concerns, but it is not likely you have considered the fact that these devices can be hacked, and pose a risk to the security of your personal data. Medical devices are a weak link in the cyber security of hospitals, clinics and other facilities that use these devices, as reported by Computer World.
The information gained by hijackers in hacking hospital systems can a technical “backdoor” through which other hospital data can be accessed – including all of your personal and medical information. You have provided the medical facility with your name, date of birth, social security number, and your medical history. Hijacks of medical devices are a very real threat to the security of personal information, as these system traditionally operate on older, insecure platforms.
You have every reason to be worried about your personal information becoming available to hackers if you are getting any medical tests, including X-rays, or will be undergoing surgery. The devices used in these procedures create a backdoor through which hackers have been found to gain access other hospital data that is secured by a firewall and advanced security software.
It appears that almost monthly, some new huge data breach is reported, the most recent being federal government employees, past and current, as well as large healthcare firms, Target and other large retailers, with hospitals and clinics a current target that has proven vulnerabilities.
Should you be worried? Yes. Has it already occurred? Possibly. Any person who has provided any information to a hospital, clinic, or other medical facility should be proactive and ensure that their accounts are monitored for illegal access, so it can be halted before any damage is done. Once a cyber-attack has occurred, and your personal data used to make purchases, open credit cards or access your bank accounts, it can be extremely difficult to resolve. As consumers, it is advised that all accounts are monitored by a reputable company that will alert you when suspicious activities are occurring.
As never before, our personal information is residing in many locations, including banks, credit card companies, retailers, at our place of employment, health insurance providers, and at the medical facilities where we go to attend to matters of health. Concerned about your personal data being stolen by hackers? This is just one more method by which these criminals can gain access to your personal information.
Having healthy eyesight is one aspect of our lives that many of us take for granted. We rely so heavily on our eyesight every day that we can easily end up thinking about our vision as a part of our life that doesn’t need any special care. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Some of us are blessed with perfect vision, and many of us need corrective lenses for 20/20 eyesight, but we can all benefit from some tips on keeping our most precious sense working at its best.
Give Your Eyes a Rest
You wouldn’t stand up all day if you could help it, right? The muscles in your legs would end up tired and sore. So why would you submit your eyes to the same treatment?
Looking at a computer screen all day can put a significant strain on your eyes if you don’t give them a break. Follow the 20-20-20 rule. For every twenty minutes of screen time, take at least twenty seconds to look at an object twenty feet or more away from you.
This breaks up the periods of intense close-up focusing that your eyes are forced to do when you’re staring at a computer screen or even reading.
Getting a bad sunburn during the summer is painful and harmful to your skin, but think about what that same sun exposure is potentially doing to your eyes. Too much UV exposure from the sun can contribute to macular degeneration and cataracts as you age, so think about investing in a pair of sunglasses that have both UVA and UVB protection.
Feed Your Eyes
Eating a well-balanced diet is important in maintaining healthy eyesight. Just like the rest of your body, your eyes benefit from a healthy diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables. Eating well also helps you maintain a healthy weight, and lowers your chances for type 2 diabetes—one of the leading causes of blindness in adults.
Just like eating well, smoking has an overall effect on your body, but in the opposite sense. You may not hear about smoking’s impact on vision as much as its other harmful effects, but smoking makes you more at risk for cataracts and macular degeneration.
If you are a smoker, quitting immediately is the best thing to do, and if you’ve never picked up a cigarette, don’t start now!
It was only last year that the NHL made visors for hockey players mandatory, and we can’t help but wince at how long that took. Sports and work related eye injuries occur all the time, and never when you’re expecting them.
Stay safe and wear protective eyewear whenever you’re in an environment with a potential risk to your eyesight. After all, what’s more important—winning that pickup game or keeping your 20/20 vision?
Maintaining healthy eyesight isn’t the hardest thing in the world. It just takes a little thought and effort on your part. Your eyes give life to the world around you, so keep them in the best shape possible with just a few daily measures.
Emily Hunter crafts content on behalf of the LASIK eye surgeons at Eyecare 20/20. In her spare time, she cheers for Spirit of Atlanta, Carolina Crown and Phantom Regiment, creates her own sodas, and crushes tower defense games. Follow her on Twitter at @Emily2Zen
When people say “nose job,” it almost always connotes the existence of a formerly unflattering nose into one that’s a better fit for the face; a change done for vanity’s sake. This kind of impression, however, is brought about by pop culture exposure to a medical procedure that ranks third among the most requested in the United States.
In fact, there are two kinds of nose jobs that one can undergo: rhinoplasty, the more familiar one, is generally regarded as a cosmetic procedure; septoplasty, its lesser known counterpart, is performed for reconstructive or revision purposes. Used mainly to correct deviated septums, the latter is ideal for those who suffer from breathing problems caused by facial trauma.
How else are they different? How are they similar?
Aside from differing purposes, each procedure affects separate parts of the nasal area. Rhinoplasty focuses on the bridge, the bone that supports the upper part of the nose. The septum, on the other hand, is tissue that divides the right and left sides of the nostrils. It is this cartilage that is realigned during a septoplasty.
During rhinoplasty, the appearance of the nose may be changed in a multitude of ways. The bridge of the nose is trimmed or its position adjusted to allow for a more aesthetically appealing and more proportionate central facial feature. Guided by your chosen, trusted doctor, the size and slope of your nose can be altered to your preference. Irregularities, such as bumps and asymmetries, are addressed too. A surgeon’s end goals, aside from a satisfied and healthy patient of course, are to enhance facial harmony and improve self-confidence.
If rhinoplasty is performed for cosmetic purposes, septoplasty could be said to be an option borne of necessity. Because of the septum’s proximity to the airways, a slight change in position caused by a congenital condition, deformity, or accident can obstruct nasal function. This obstruction can range from easily discounted to downright cumbersome. Symptoms vary from person to person, too. Some report “chronic stuffiness, headaches, and snoring,” while others barely feel the difference caused by a deviation or misalignment.
Regarding concerns on costs, septoplasty is commonly covered by insurance because of its reconstructive nature. Classified as a cosmetic procedure, rhinoplasty would have to be shouldered by the patient him/herself. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, “the average cost of rhinoplasty is $4,545” based on 2013 statistics.
Now that the hard part’s over, it’s time to let your nose heal from the immense stress of surgery. The occurrence of swelling of the eyes, nose, and sometimes even the face is completely normal; as is discomfort in the nasal area during the first few weeks. Most patients describe sensations such as needles pricking or a dull ache on the end of the nose. The frequent application of a cold compress for 20-minute periods is good for temporary relief.
Aside from packing, a drip pad is sometimes worn under the nose at least for the first few days. A patient should avoid strenuous physical activity for the first couple of weeks. Bed rest is best, with the head in an elevated position. In a week or two, most patients find themselves able to resume work. They generally report gaining back the sense of normalcy within a few weeks.
Dr. Patrick Hsu, MD of Memorial Plastic Surgery is a board certified and highly experienced Plastic Surgeon in Houston who specializes in aesthetic, plastic and reconstructive surgery.
The Pitfalls of the Traditional Model
For years, Western medicine has taken an imprecise approach to new drugs: Test new drugs on as large a group as possible in a clinical trial, and if enough of those participants benefit, make the drug available to the general public. Sure, this wide-cast net may not help everyone, goes the theory, but with such large numbers, it’s bound to catch a fair number. Plus, it appears efficient, as it deals with thousands of patients with a single trial and a single drug. However, medical professionals are beginning to remark on the flaws in this system.
Even drugs that pass rigorous clinical trials may help surprisingly few patients: the top ten highest-grossing drugs in the US only help between 1/4 and 1/25 of the people who take them. These disappointing figures are exacerbated by the fact that clinical trials disproportionately enlist white participants, whose responses to given drugs are not necessarily identical to other ethnicities’ responses. Trials also tend to focus heavily on chemical analyses to the point of ignoring genetic and environmental factors that play an important role in medication.
Moving Towards Personalized Medicine
Perhaps, it’s time to explore a “precision” approach. Generally, this model means taking into account more factors that affect individuals’ responsiveness to drugs. It may even involve ultra-personalized, one-person studies. In these, the participant would test out a drug, and be tracked in a detailed way over a long period of time, with attention given to genetic and environmental factors. The story wouldn’t end with studying a single person; the results of all these trials together would be aggregated to yield information that is predictive for members of the wider population. By using patterns found in the aggregate data, doctors may be able to more accurately predict how well a treatment will work for a given subset of the population.
Of course, there are significant barriers to the use of one-person studies, chief among them cost. Tailoring trials to individuals tends to cost more than running a broad, one-size-fits all study. Nonetheless, this new model seems slowly to be gaining traction. In January 2015, President Obama announced that he would seek $215 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative, which proposes to use patients’ specific genetic and physiological characteristics to better treat them. Of this, the FDA would receive $10 million to build personalized-medicine databases and to examine its regulatory processes for personalized treatments. Following suit, this year the state of California also unveiled a $3 million precision-medicine project to investigate personalized treatments and diagnoses. As time goes on, we may see a real paradigm shift in how doctors study and treat patients, to understand them as unique individuals whose data points reveal truths about the wider population, rather than the other way around.
The practice of medicine has gone through big changes over the years, and how medical schools train our future professionals has also undergone a significant shift – not only via rising tuition costs. For a long period of time, training to become a medical professional followed a standard set of processes, but training is finally catching up with new technologies and some top medical educational centers are starting over, from scratch.
Many medical schools operate on a model that had been pioneered by educator Abraham Flexner in the early 1900’s. Some medical schools, such as at the University of Michigan, are engaged in an update and full overhaul of how they train doctors. The students are not only studying the standards of medical practice – anatomy and biochemistry – but are focusing on increasing their ability to communicate. Doctors are forced to communicate very serious issues to patients and other medical professionals, and the ability to communicate clearly and in the correct manner is of great importance. Teamwork is necessary in medicine, which has become specialized rather than broad. The doctor who cannot work effectively on a team can be expected to have trouble in his or her future career.
The practice of medicine requires that the person is extremely flexible, as advances in treatment are released frequently, and no medical professional can become stuck in older methods – he/she must be prepared to learn new treatments as their career progresses. They also must understand how the digital age is changing the landscape in modern medicine. The ability to create written reports that can be shared digitally is now a critical point in patient care, as it can greatly reduce the likelihood of medical errors – which are at an all-time high. The Journal of Patient Safety released an article in which it was revealed that the numbers of patients who suffer some type of preventable harm was in the range of 210,000 to 440,000 each year, and that this is the third leading cause of death in the USA.
Medical students face big challenges, even in medical schools that are still operating on the older model. Those students who hope to survive in the world of medicine must reach beyond the current methods of training to gain the skills needed for teamwork, interaction with patients and families, and technological prowess, especially as medical records are increasingly digitized. A scribbled, unreadable note will no longer make the cut, and the students that have the skills to function in the new world of medicine are far more likely to make a successful career.
How to Recognize Early Symptoms
While it’s true that it isn’t always easy to detect cancer in its early stages, early diagnosis is a huge advantage in treatment. Therefore, it’s a good idea to inform yourself of cancer’s possible warning signs to help you look out for the health of yourself and your loved ones. The American Cancer Society provides a checklist of some general red flags to watch out for:
- Change in bowel/bladder habits
- Unexplained weight loss
- Persistent fever or fatigue
- Obvious changes in the shape/color/size of birthmarks, moles or sores, or general changes in one’s skin: itching, redness, etc.
This list is designed to reflect a variety of cancers. However, there’s no need to panic if you think you exhibit one of the signs, as none of these are anything like surefire. It’s also not a comprehensive list–you should also get checked if you display more specific indicators such as: lumps in the breast or testicle tissue, sores in your mouth that do not quickly heal, frequent nausea or headaches, or fluid in the lungs (this last could be a sign of mesothelioma). Since cancer can develop nearly anywhere in the body, its signs and symptoms are highly variable. If you have experienced one of these symptoms for two weeks or more, it’s better to be safe than sorry and see a doctor, as early detection can greatly improve one’s prognosis.
What You Need to Know About Screenings
Because of the advantages of early detection for many types of cancer, even if you have no symptoms, your doctor will likely want to perform several screenings. The most common screenings are:
- Colonoscopies (colorectal cancer screenings). For people at average risk, these are recommended yearly between the ages of 50 and 75.
- Mammograms (breast cancer screenings). These are recommended for women between the ages of 40 and 74.
- Low-dose helical computed tomography (lung cancer screenings). Thesre are generally recommended only for smokers between the ages of 55 and 74.
- Pap smears (cervical cancer and HPV screenings). These are recommended for all women aged 21-65.
Depending on your risk factors, your doctor may recommend others, such as blood tests, skin exams, and breast MRI’s. Depending on family history, some people may even benefit from genetic testing. However, more screenings are not necessarily better, and some actually have associated risks. Colonoscopies, for example, can cause tears in the lining of the colon. In addition, both false-positive and false-negative results are possible.
In some cases, the cancer never actually displays serious symptoms—the patient could have lived quite happily without the detection and subsequent treatment of the disease. Since there are many factors involved, your decisions about screenings should be tailored to your situation and made in consultation with your doctor. Remember that when your doctor suggests a screening, it is purely preventative; it does not mean you have cancer. If you take the proper, informed preventative steps, you increase your chances of living a long and healthy life.
Do you peruse medical sites for information if you are experiencing symptoms? Technology has changed how people gain access to medical information. You can search your symptoms on various medical sites, or simply using the Google search bar or voice command, giving an unprecedented level of access to information about health issues that was unavailable in the past.
Earlier generations considered medical professionals to be the ultimate authorities and generally simply submitted to a prescribed treatment. Gen-Xers and millennials are far more likely to search out information about a disease or condition, including alternative treatments, and tend to be more suspicious of the medical community and have interest in being an active participant in making decisions about treatment.
Patients may be well-informed about a condition or illness and the various options for treatment even before seeing a doctor. Knowledge is power, and the data accessed from the internet can allow a patient to find the most advanced treatments available, seek out clinical trials, and discover alternative or natural treatments or cures.
How much information can be too much? Searching out diseases, illnesses and conditions can produce an overwhelming amount of data. It is also notable that medical sites such as WebMD sell advertising to big pharma, and you can “click through” to advertisements that advise you to “ask your doctor about _____,” the most productive all-time pharmaceutical marketing strategy. A patient may have already seen several online ads promoting certain medications before seeing a medical professional.
Using a “symptom checker” feature, you can search out what you are experiencing to discover what disease or condition you may have. The results can be frightening. For example, if you choose “food cravings” as a symptom, you are given the following options of possible diseases: bulimia, eating disorder, malnutrition and pica (eating disorder in which a person is compelled to consume non-food items).
Health providers are also going digital, and specialists review test results and charts on a computer and can make decisions about patient care, and prescribe treatment without ever seeing the patient in person, raising real concerns about quality of care. The jury is out, but it is hoped that the access to information will in the end, prove to be a positive.