Ideally, we’re all supposed to see our doctor once a year for a checkup. It’s an opportunity to see how we’re doing from a health perspective, address any concerns or issues that we may have and catch any emerging issues before they become true problems.
But those visits are really only one-time, infrequent snapshots of health. They don’t give a full view of how we’re doing or feeling.
Now, think for a moment about how often you post something to Facebook or Twitter. Do you post anything about whether you’re feeling ill or down, or haven’t slept well? Ever share how far you ran, the route you biked or your number of steps for the day?
Every time you do, you’re creating a data point—another snapshot—about your health. Put those data points together, and what starts to emerge is a rich view of your health, much richer than one based on the records of your occasional medical visit.
As John Brownstein, PhD—director of the Computational Epidemiology Group (CEG) in Boston Children’s Hospital’s Computational Health Informatics Program and the hospital’s new Chief Innovation Officer—explains in this episode of the Harvard Medical School (HMS) Labcast (click the image above to hear it), this view has a name: your digital phenotype.
More than 100,000 smartphone apps are currently categorized as “health apps.” There are apps for physical health—apps that log work-outs, track nutritional intake, and monitor sleeping patterns. And there are apps for mental health—apps that identify your mood, guide meditation and alleviate depression. But can an app tackle a public health problem as serious as teen suicide?
Turns out, mobile phones and suicide prevention may not be such strange bedfellows.
Elizabeth Wharff, PhD, and Kimberly O’Brien, PhD, clinician-researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at Boston Children’s Hospital, specialize in working with adolescents who struggle with suicidal thoughts. Noting that teens are already turning to their phones whenever they need something, they believe a mobile app may be the perfect platform to support them through tough times. Wharff feels that existing apps designed to help with depression and anxiety lack something crucial: parent mode.
Can a robotic talking bear have therapeutic value? “The Bear,” part of a New York Times video series called Robotica, offers a glimpse of Huggable’s potential when Beatrice Lipp, a child with a chronic medical condition, visits the hospital, nervous about what’s to come.
“We want to offer kids one more way of helping them to feel OK where they are in what’s otherwise a really stressful experience,” explains Dierdre Logan, PhD, director of Psychological Services for Pain Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Huggable, a creation of the MIT Media Lab’s Personal Robots Group and the Boston Children’s Simulator Program, comes into Beatrice’s room to chat, play games like “I Spy” and tell jokes. The session is recorded on video, and a bracelet called a Q Sensor collects Beatrice’s physiologic data–changes in skin conductance, temperature and motion that may indicate distress. Researchers at Northeastern University are analyzing these data to gauge the robot’s effect. Eventually, Huggable will be able to react to the data and respond accordingly—offering relaxation exercises and guided imagery, for example, if a child remains anxious.
Currently, Huggable is voiced by Child Life staff, but the ultimate goal is for it to work autonomously. Beatrice is part of a 90-child study comparing Huggable, an ordinary teddy bear and a tablet Huggable image.
I admit: My immediate thought on seeing Huggable was that kids would immediately see him (her?) as a fake, but the bear’s robotic nature doesn’t seem to faze them. As Logan says in the video:
I think there’s a way of connecting with kids that’s different than what grownups have to offer. They have incredible imaginations. And they can really suspend disbelief. There can be a true relationship that develops between Huggable and a patient.
See another child interacting with Huggable.
From cancer to feet: the power of Twitter in healthcare (MedCity News)
Why does Twitter care about the healthcare industry? Craig Hashi, one of two Twitter engineers dedicated to healthcare, details the opportunities.
MIT’s implantable device could help docs determine best cancer medicine (Boston Business Journal)
Removing the trial and error associated with cancer drug treatments is high on oncologists’ wish lists. Heeding that call, MIT has developed an implantable device (about the size of a grain of rice) that can carry up to 30 different drug doses to a cancerous tumor, and then be removed to test responses.
In the U.S. alone, an estimated 30 million Americans suffer from a rare disorder. Many of them never receive a diagnosis, and often find themselves on a lonely journey, going from doctor to doctor and test to test, sometimes for many years, with no explanation for their symptoms.
How many people fall in the “undiagnosed” category is unclear, but in its first six years, the NIH’s Undiagnosed Diseases Program has received more than 10,000 inquiries. Without a diagnosis, it’s often difficult to qualify for insurance coverage, receive coordinated care or even connect with a support group.
What if the work of solving these medical mysteries could be crowd-sourced? That’s the goal of CLARITY Undiagnosed, an international challenge launching today in which scientific teams can compete to provide answers for five families with undiagnosed conditions. (Deadline for applications: June 11).
Your child’s forehead is warm, and you just took her temperature. The next question is, what to do about it? We all know that an average normal temp is 98.6°F, but is 100° a problem? Should 102° be a concern?
This is where Thermia comes in. It’s an online fever calculator developed by the HealthMap team at Boston Children’s Hospital. Essentially, it’s an educational tool aimed at helping concerned parents interpret a child’s temperature and understand which steps they should consider taking.
“I’m a father of two, and I still wonder sometimes what a temperature actually means,” says HealthMap co-founder John Brownstein, PhD. “We realized that there really aren’t any fever calculators out there to help parents answer that question.
“Our idea with Thermia,” he adds, “was to arm families with information so they don’t panic when their child has a temperature.”
When you go into Netflix to choose a movie or Amazon to buy a book, they’re ready with proactive suggestions for your next purchase, based on your past history. Isaac Kohane, MD, PhD, would like to see something similar happening in medicine, where today, patients often find themselves repeating their medical history “again and again to every provider,” as Kohane recently told Harvard Medicine.
“Medicine as a whole is a knowledge-processing business that increasingly is taking large amounts of data and then, in theory, bringing that information to the point of care so that doctor and patient have a maximally informed visit,” says Kohane, chair of informatics at Boston Children’s Hospital and co-director of the Center for Biomedical Informatics at Harvard Medical School.
When a nurse gives a complex medication at the bedside, a second nurse must come in to observe and verify the dose. But flagging down a nurse on a busy hospital floor can be pretty challenging, especially when the nurse has to “suit up” because of infection control precautions in the patient’s room. During a Nursing Morbidity and Mortality (M&M) Conference at Boston Children’s Hospital, a group of nurses expressed concern that this arrangement could potentially jeopardize safety. “We thought we should be able to do better,” says project co-developer Jennifer Taylor, MSEd, BSN, RN-BC, CPN.
(Clockwise from top: T3, Surgical Sam, non-electric baby warmer, silk-based organ reconstruction)
Next week—on April 15—Boston-area visitors can sample inventions and technologies from around Boston Children’s Hospital, some in development and some already in use. More than 20 medical innovations will be on display in an interactive “science fair” format. We’ll be demonstrating a variety of medical devices, mobile applications, software IT innovations, wearables and bioengineering innovations. It’s free and open to the public.
The event is hosted by Boston Children’s Innovation Acceleration Program and Technology & Innovation Development Office, from 2 to 4 p.m., followed by networking time (4 to 5 p.m.).
Bubble wrap used for cheap blood and bacteria tests (New Scientist)
Snap, crackle, pop are the familiar sounds of bubble wrap. According to George Whitesides at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, the cheap packing material may be popping up in the near future as a diagnostic tool, replacing costlier 96-well plates.
Nearly half of all pre-schoolers with ADHD are on medication (Washington Post)
The American Academy of Pediatrics calls for children under 6 with ADHD to engage in behavioral therapy before taking medication. Yet according to a national survey published in the Journal of Pediatrics, nearly half of preschool-aged children are on medication for the condition, and more than a fifth were receiving neither of the recommended therapies.