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More people using the internet for health enquiries

More and more people are now prepared to share personal health information online in order to achieve a diagnosis and help.

According to new research by Simplyhealth, the private health insurance provider, more than half of people say that they would rather look up their health issues on the internet than immediately seek help from a healthcare professional. Information to be noted by companies wanting to sell healthcare products using digital marketing channels.

A total of 55% of those surveyed said that they would be prepared to submit information about their symptoms online, whilst half of respondents said that they would be happy to give basic information about themselves, such as their age.

The survey showed that nearly a third of people (31%) in the UK use the internet to find out if their symptoms warrant a visit to their GP, with 59% using Google to find out what’s wrong. The results show that younger people are often more comfortable with communicating over the internet, and are more likely to disclose personal information. 79% of 18 to 24s say they would give information compared to 63% of over 65s. Just under a quarter of those surveyed said that they would give details about their medical history online.

The research follows another recent survey, also by Simplyhealth, in which people saw the internet as a viable alternative in their search for help with their health in the face of long waiting lists at NHS healthcare providers.

Raman Sankaran, a spokesperson for Simplyhealth, said: “The internet, social media and instant messaging feature strongly in the results of our survey.

“All of this suggests that there is a shift in the way people want to access health advice and interact with healthcare professionals now.” This will have useful implications for the marketing of healthcare products to consumers.

Mobile health apps need new regulatory framework

Last month, a mobile phone app became the first of its kind to be registered by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as a medical device.

The app was developed by the team at the Mersey Regional Burns and Plastic Surgery Unit and is designed to help medical staff assess burn damages. This neat bit of kit is listed by the MHRA as a class 1 medical device and is available for free in the Apple app store.

According to research, 81% of healthcare professionals own a smartphone and as a result the Mersey Burns app will no doubt be useful by sharing the specialist knowledge from the burns unit with their medical colleagues. However, the licensing of the app has raised all kinds of questions on the future registration of mobile phone apps for use in the healthcare professions.

On the face of it, registration is eminently desirable; in healthcare accuracy is everything, so it is important that diagnostic, treatment and monitoring apps are rigorously tested to ensure their suitability for public release. Unregulated mobile health apps have the potential to put the public at risk.

However there is concern, particularly in the US, that excessive regulation of mobile apps will vastly increase the costs of app development and slow market availability down to such an extent that the technology could be out of date by the time it hits the market.

As a result, on both sides of the Atlantic, web and app developers and healthcare and pharmaceutical companies are calling for a new regulatory framework which will allow the testing and processing of relevant mobile apps at speeds equal to the pace of rapid technological change.

Lloydspharmacy to offer digital drug-taking pack

Lloydspharmacy has teamed up with a US digital pharmaceutical company to offer a product aimed at helping patients keep on top of their pill-taking routines.

Proteus Biomedical has teamed with the chain of chemists to launch its first commercial product, Helius. Helius includes a mobile health app, sensor-enabled pills, and a peel-and-stick patch that patients wear on their body.

Lloydspharmacy will offer the Helius system as part of a personalised pack to customers who need help sticking to their drug regimen. The Helius packs will also include blister packs for each drug. For example, if a patient takes three pills a day, one blister pack will include these three pills along with a Helius tablet, which has an embedded sensor to track ingestion.

Helius is based on Proteus’ Raisin system, a similar group of apps and sensor-embedded tablets that is expected to roll out across Europe within the next few months.

Steve Gray, director of Lloydspharmacy Healthcare Services, said: “There is a huge problem with medicines not being taken correctly. Anyone taking several medications knows how easy it can be to lose track of whether or not you’ve taken the correct tablets that day.

“Add to that complex health issues and families caring for loved ones who may not live with them and you can appreciate the benefits of an information service that helps patients get the most from their treatments and for families to help them remain well.”

Sanofi using social media to drive diabetes tech competition

Sanofi U.S., the American arm of the French pharmaceutical giant is effectively using social media to drive its Data Design Diabetes Innovation Challenge. Currently in its second year, the challenge aims to generate innovative ideas that can be used to improve the lives of people with diabetes.

Last year the challenge was won by Ginge.io which created an app able to transform a mobile phone into a monitoring device with the capability of real time identification of diabetic problems. This year the company has doubled the prize money to $200,000 and the challenge is generating huge interest on social media.

Central to the process of the challenge is using crowd sourcing to define the focus for this year’s challenge. Sanofi has set up a dedicated website as well as Facebook and Twitter accounts for the challenge. This use of the internet is pulling a highly varied mix of people into the project resulting in a  significant  public contribution to the shape of the project.

Sanofi claim that the involvement of the public through social media has delivered ideas in just six months that would normally take up to five years to develop. Speaking about the project Michele Polz, the head of Patient solutions at Sanofi, said ‘We wanted to cast a wide net, look beyond the four walls we play in every day.’

New e-health site asks patients: “How Are You?”

A new e-health portal for patients and healthcare professionals has attracted more than 700 sign-ups in the first few hours of its launch.

How Are You? is a social networking site that allows patients with long-term health conditions to take a more proactive role in their treatment by making it easier for them to communicate with the healthcare professionals who are working with them.

Users can sign into the portal with their Facebook or Windows Live accounts. There are also plans to allow users to sign in via their Google, Aol and Yahoo accounts.

Twitter integration for the service has also been launched. At the moment, users receive condition-specific tweets; there are plans to develop this as How Are You? evolves.

How Are You? has been devised by healthcare startup Cambridge Healthcare and was originally going to be called NHS.info. Dawson Kind, founder of the service, told one health website: “When we launched the portal it was named NHS.info, however, we weren’t prepared for the amount of interest the project generated not just in the UK but also internationally. In response, we decided to register a generic name that could provide a solution for all.

“How are you? was chosen because it sums up the concept. When a user provides how they’re feeling or inputs their virtual patient record, the content dynamically changes to provide relevant resources and features to that individual. Imagine a cross between Twitter and Facebook, but encrypted and you decide how much and with whom you want your information shared.”

Doctors need to use social media more, says report

Doctors are more likely to use social media channels for education and communicating with fellow healthcare professionals than they are for interacting with their patients and taking advantage of possible digital marketing opportunities offered by social media.

According to a new report from American consulting firm CSC, doctors are reluctant to use social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter to interact with their patients, but they need to overcome this.

The report states that larger hospitals, academic medical centres and paediatric clinics are the healthcare institutions that are most likely to use social media. Jason Lee, lead author of the report, explains: “Large hospitals are more likely to use it because they have large budgets. They might also need to spend more on legal resources to check their Facebook and Twitter postings.”

Meanwhile, children’s hospitals are most likely to use social media for fundraising activities.

The report suggests that several business goals can be achieved with the help of social media, such as patient monitoring, care management and care coordination. It says that care management in particular will be helped by the increasing role that social media will have to play in it.

Lee says that some of the most frequently stated reasons that doctors give for avoiding linking up with their patients via social media channels include worries about liability, privacy and lack of reimbursement.

Healthcare trust could stream meetings on YouTube

Scottish healthcare bosses are considering broadcasting their board meetings on YouTube in a bid to boost public interest in their work.

NHS Lothian wants to increase public involvement in its business and particularly wants to see more members of the public attending their bi-monthly meetings.

Their meetings typically involve debate and decisions involving hundreds of millions of pounds of public money – yet few members of the public are currently willing to come along to help influence how their money is being spent.

The health board has previously tried reaching out to the public via roadshows, taking its meetings around the region in order to make it easier for all local people to come to meetings. However, that strategy proved unsuccessful.

Bosses are now considering webcasting the meetings as another way to get people interested and involved.

This could have implications for web designers looking to market pharmaceutical products on behalf of pharmaceutical companies.

If NHS Lothian does go ahead with the move, it will be the first healthcare organisation in the UK to do so.

Alan Boyter, director of human resources at NHS Lothian, says: “We have been asked to consider the possibility of webcasting board meetings.

”Streaming them on the internet is one option – we don’t know of any other health board which does this.

”It would be done on a trial basis, then, after a couple of meetings, we could see how much interest there has been and present the findings.”

Internet video experiment helps doctors to assess stroke patients

Two primary care trusts (PCTs) in England are experimenting with internet video in order to treat stroke patients.

Doctors working in Lancashire and Cumbria NHS PCTs are currently using high definition (HD) video conferencing in order to treat those affected by strokes.

The Telestroke Project lets medical professionals assess people remotely from their home, allowing doctors to carry out assessments with the speed required to make an effective post-stroke diagnosis.

Paul Davies, consultant stroke physician at North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: ‘Thrombolysis treatment can only be given to patients within four and a half hours of the onset of their stroke so time is core to this treatment and Telestroke will help improve the speed of patient diagnosis.” Digital marketers in the pharmaceutical field should keep up with this development.

He added: “We are using technology to take the stroke specialists to the patient, rather than moving the patient long distances, around rural areas, to where the specialists work. In an acute stroke, time is of the essence and the sooner treatment can be provided, the better.”

The experiment could also mean good news for the NHS’s finances.

Shuja Punekar, consultant physician of cerebro-vascular medicine, revealed the technology could cut the NHS’s costs by millions of pounds, with the average saving per patient around £50,000 a year.

Internet and smartphone-based nursing can help diabetic patients

Nursing via the internet and smartphones can be an effective way to help patients with uncontrolled diabetes to manage their care.

According to a new study conducted by McGill University, Canada for the Public Health Agency of Canada, tele-monitoring is also increasingly seen as a workable way of delivering care to patients with chronic conditions who live in remote places, or who require monitoring on a long-term basis.

During the pilot project, diabetic patients in four regions of Quebec submitted their blood sugar readings to a nurse every day using a secure website.

Patients also answered a series of questions online about their exercise, diet and food care.

Their nurses then monitored their responses, providing appropriate advice as and when required. If a patient’s readings were a cause for concern, then they appeared in red text and triggered an alarm.

Nurses also emailed their patients educational material to help them manage their conditions.

Antonia Arnaert, professor of nursing at McGill University, said: “Patients with chronic diseases like diabetes, or who have gone through surgery, often have lots of questions and the doctors and nurses don’t always have the time to answer them.

“With tele-nursing, whether using video-conferencing or text-messaging, patients say they feel they get lots of attention from their nurses, because they know that they have their full attention for an hour.”

“They said that tele-monitoring provided them with a sense of confidence in their ability to manage their diabetic condition themselves.”

Travellers’ medical records now held on USB sticks

Individuals who are travelling abroad will now be able to carry their medical records on a credit card-sized USB device. The Crosscard personal medical record card stores the data in two areas – an emergency area that contains information that is publicly available and a protected area that can only be accessed by entering a […]