Tag Archive for technology

FDA takes first step toward regulating medical-related apps

Walk into a hospital or clinic these days and it’s increasingly likely you will find the doctor carrying a mobile tablet or smartphone. Use of these handheld digital devices has proliferated as medical professionals and the world at large find much to like in their mobility, ease of use, and growing app offerings.

So popular are these devices, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that by 2015 the number of smartphone users across the world will reach some 500 million. Not surprisingly perhaps, the FDA is now looking to regulate any apps intended for health- or medical-related purposes.

According to a recent post on the Foreign Exchange Translations blog, the FDA recently took the first step by releasing draft guidelines for regulation. It has separated mobile apps into four categories, each with a distinct regulatory strategy. These include:

• Apps that display, store, or transmit patient-specific medical device data in an original format
• Apps that control the intended use, function, modes, or energy source of a connected medical device
• Apps that turn the mobile platform into a regulated medical device (e.g., electronic stethoscope apps that use the phone’s microphone)
• Apps that create alarms, recommendations, or new information by analyzing or interpreting medical device data

The FDA is inviting the public to comment on its app regulation proposals. And that public, especially the app developer community, may indeed have a good deal to say.

Till next time,

Medical translation figuring in emerging healthcare apps

Every software developer is looking for the “killer” app. With the growing popularity of smartphones and tablets like the iPad, the market for such applications is skyrocketing. Not surprisingly, healthcare is a common focus of these burgeoning tools, and the U.S. government, among others, wants to help spur that innovation.

Just ask Polyglot Systems. The North Carolina-based company (and viaLanguage client!) was just awarded the $5,000 top prize in a federally funded program that invited app developers to compete with each to develop the best health IT apps.

The winning app, chosen from a field of 15 contenders by a panel of health IT industry leaders, provides simplified medication instructions in multiple languages. Called “Meducation,” it retrieves medication lists from electronic health records (EHRs), and then links to a drug information database that provides simplified medication directions in one of several languages.

The contest grew out of a $15 million grant provided by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT through its Strategic Health IT Advanced Research Projects program. Meanwhile, researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School developed Substitutable Medical Applications, Reusable Technologies (SMART), a programming interface to support the development of health-related apps.

It is encouraging to see both the resources and energy devoted to applying technological innovation to improving healthcare. It is doubly encouraging to see that translation needs are figuring in those efforts.

For more on the contest, check out the recent post on the iHealthBeat blog. And congratulations to Polyglot from all of us here at viaLanguage!

Till next time,

Can online communities help drive completion of intervention programs?

People increasingly understand that they must take an active role in their own health and wellness. The industry, meanwhile, knows that prevention is possibly the greatest means for controlling costs. Intervention programs are one tool being looked at to help achieve both aims.

The challenge is that, while effective, in-person programs in which providers are tasked with helping people lose weight or quit smoking can be expensive and inconvenient. They are also limited to the number of people the provider can actually support, not a scalable scenario. Online programs could be a solution.

So far, trials for such web-based alternatives have been promising, but hampered by low completion rates. One recent study found that about 25 percent of participants in a managed trial abandoned, while more than 65 percent quit the free, open-access online program.

The answer, some suggest, may be in online communities. Such environments permit users to communicate with each other, helping sustain inspiration and motivation, while offering them additional forms of content designed to promote program completion.

In another study, this one at the University of Michigan, they tested that premise with a two-tiered online walking program. One group had access to online community content and support. Nearly 80 percent of this group finished. The second group had no access, with nearly 20 percent fewer completing the program.

Questions remain, including how to pay for developing and managing such communities. Ensuring these communities address and support the many languages that make up today’s patient population is another.

Till next time,

Could social media deliver an innovation in how we conduct clinical trials?

Some months ago, the Speaking Healthcare blog explored the increasing popularity of emerging social media as a tool for enabling patients to take a more involved and active role in their own healthcare. PatientsLikeMe.com, which was highlighted in that post, is continuing to blaze that trail.

The site, a healthcare data-sharing platform, recently conducted an online trial in which they sought to assess the clinical benefit of an unapproved therapy for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The study analyzed the relevant discussions on the site and included some 600 participating patients.

The results, recently published on Nature Biotechnology, drew on millions of data points and concluded that there was “no effect of lithium on disease progression.” This confirmed the results earlier found through traditional clinical trials.

The question being asked now is whether such online trials and studies driven by patient social networks can or will be a reliable option going forward. There are obvious upsides to using online communities in clinical research, including speed, access to rare patient populations, and availability of control participants. Clinicians or and even patients could one day run trials. (Read more in a recent Wall Street Journal blog post.)

Social media is transforming how we communicate and stay connected, be it among friends or participants in the “Arab Spring” protests. There is no reason to believe that such technological inroads won’t also impact how we think about healthcare.

Till next time,

Alameda County Access to Care Collaborative putting grant to work to benefit LEP communities

The ability for healthcare organizations to reach healthcare goals has perhaps never been more complex or more challenging. But the reality is that the need to meet those goals has likely never been more critical, especially among limited English proficiency (LEP) communities.

The viaLanguage Healthcare Translation Grant Program is one way we hope to help. The grant reflects our desire to spotlight and support those innovative healthcare organizations that are finding a way to improve access for today’s underserved, ethnic audiences.

Our 2010 grant recipient, the Alameda County Access to Care Collaborative in California, is a prime example. After conducting a baseline assessment of the uninsured in Alameda County in 2009, they concluded that the biggest finding was how challenging it was to gather information, especially amongst the smaller limited-scope providers.

Alameda County Access to Care Collaborative collaborated with a range of partners to develop a website that provides a comprehensive list of clinics, including both free and community clinics, an explanation of the different types of services they offer, and the processes patients must go through to get an appointment with a doctor.

Alameda County Access to Care Collaborative applied its $5,000 of in-kind translation services to the translation of the website into Spanish and Chinese, proving along the way that today’s most pressing healthcare challenges can be overcome. We applaud and congratulate them. Click here to read the entire case study about this project.

Those searching for health-related content online continues to grow

Today, approximately 80 percent of Internet users look to the web for health-related information information. This puts it behind only email and using a search engine as the most common reason for using the Internet.

According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project and the California HealthCare Foundation (CHFC), the number is only growing, with Internet users finding ever more health-related reasons to venture online.

The top five most popular subjects for health-related searches include the following, in order of frequency/popularity:

  • A disease or medical problem: 66%.
    (The top five issues include: shingles, gallbladder, gout, hemorrhoids, and lupus.)
  • A certain medical treatment or procedure: 56%.
    (Common terms include: pain relievers, anti-depressants, high blood pressure medication, corticosteroids, and hysterectomy.)
  • Doctors or other health professionals: 44%.
  • Hospitals or other medical facilities: 36%.
  • Health insurance, including private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid: 33%.
  • The research revealed that those most likely to look to the web for health information are caregivers, women, whites, younger adults, and adults with at least some college education. But that is changing as the rise of wireless mobile devices enables other groups such as young people, Hispanics, and African Americans to increasingly pursue information online.

    Is your web presence prepared to serve these searchers? How about for the growing population of limited English proficient (LSP) patients? If not, it might be time to consult your language services partner.

    Till next time,

Familiar prenatal tool proving helpful for linguists

How might ultrasound, a tool long relied on in pre-natal medical settings, help with language study? As it turns out, the same technology that images fetuses can help with the study of endangered languages, teaching foreign languages, and assisting the deaf to speak.

Innovative scientists are turning to the technology to study and track the tongues of their subjects in real time. As it happens, it is one of the only medical scanning devices that can keep up with speech. And since the portable technology became affordable to linguists in about 2000, about 40 have begun using it.

It’s also a welcome improvement over the x-rays and glue-on electronic probes that had been used prior to ultrasound. The first exposes the subject to harmful radiation, while the second tends to be inconvenient and not especially comfortable for those being examined.

Using ultrasound, researchers have been able to capture some of the fastest sounds in human speech: the clicking consonants used in a number of rare African languages. Linguists did not know how these sounds were produced, making them difficult to order in the International Phonetic Alphabet, the universal system that catalogues all the sounds in the world’s languages.

Thanks to the technology, research published in 2009 identified more than 40 different kinds of click consonants, organizing them based on attributes such as airstream (where the air comes from), place (where the mouth constricts), and manner of articulation. This information has now allowed the clicks to be properly classified.

Till next time,

New geolocation tools a potential new opportunity for healthcare

Healthcare is currently looking at how it might use another of the myriad new tools being ushered in by the digital technology revolution. Referred to generally as “geolocation,” these tools include names like Foursquare, Gowalla, and Google Places, and give users the ability to “check in” with friends to let them know where they are.

Geolocation is made possible by mobile applications that work with your smartphone’s GPS system. Developed originally as a means for friends to alert each other of their whereabouts, it is now also being used to share instant reviews and news about different locations, be it a restaurant or a clinic waiting room.

The sites also often allow users to post their location to other social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Not surprisingly, some companies have sought to use this functionality as a means for offering discounts or incentives.

The question facing many in healthcare is does this technology make sense for them. There are HIPAA concerns to consider. But the service could give healthcare organizations a new way to share targeted health information. For example, some pharmacies are using the applications to promote services such as flu shots.

In another example, the Kaiser Family Foundation partnered with Foursquare and MTV for an STD awareness campaign. It encouraged people to follow MTV on Foursquare, check in after getting tested, and shout “GYT” (Get Yourself Tested) to their followers. Participants were then entered to win a trip for two to New York City and backstage passes to MTV’s 10 on Top.

Today, the opportunities are only limited by one’s imagination.

Till next time,

Machine translation not the silver bullet for medical translation challenges

Much energy and attention has been and continues to be focused on how best to communicate with the increasingly influential Hispanic audience in the U.S. One thing that has been learned is that the Hispanic community is, in many cases, frustrated with those communications. For example, because of the poor quality of so many Spanish translated websites, many deem English sites a better alternative even though not their native language.

A recent post on the Hispanic Online Marketing blog expresses concern that the focus on machine translation, including the much-discussed Google Translate, is unfortunately poised to make matters worse.

The prospect of simply inserting your organization’s website content into Google Translate and receiving in return an effective, accurate translation—and for free—is simply irresistible to many. In reality, it echoes the adage that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Because as Hispanic Online Marketing duly points out, sites that opt to use this tool and others like it tend to carry disclaimers alerting you that what you’re reading may not be accurate or reliable. How, one wonders, is this in any way serving the audience?

Such a move may save you money, but in time, a poorly translated site will cost a great deal more. Language is subtle and as much a product of culture and context as words. The reality is that only a human translator, and one with sufficient experience, can effectively meet today’s translation challenges.

Good health!

Social and new media are changing the face of healthcare – see for yourself!

If you’ve been following Speaking Healthcare you have surely read by now how social and new media serve as incredible platforms for connecting with your patients and communities. Healthcare providers who build a social media presence are building more than just their brand; they are providing better access to healthcare information by reaching their members through these media channels.

Yet how many organizations are exploiting the true power of these increasingly valuable tools? How many patients are even online, and what does this mean for us as members of the healthcare industry as well as the United States? Take a minute and watch the video below…if you weren’t convinced about the power and popularity of these before, you will certainly be now!

Leslie Iburg