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Google Builds a New Tablet for the Fight Against Ebola

Google Builds a New Tablet for the Fight Against Ebola | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

Jay Achar was treating Ebola patients at a makeshift hospital in Sierra Leone, and he needed more time.

This was in September, near the height of the West African Ebola epidemic. Achar was part of a team that traveled to Sierra Leone under the aegis of a European organization called Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders. In a city called Magburaka, MSF had erected a treatment center that kept patients carefully quarantined, and inside the facility’s high-risk zone, doctors like Achar wore the usual polythene “moon suits,” gloves, face masks, and goggles to protect themselves from infection.

With temperatures rising to about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, Achar could stay inside for only about an hour at a time. “The suit doesn’t let your skin breathe. It can’t,” he says. “You get very, very hot.” And even while inside, so much of his time was spent not treating the patients, but merely recording their medical information—a tedious but necessary part of containing an epidemic that has now claimed an estimated 10,000 lives. Due to the risk of contamination, he would take notes on paper, walk the paper to the edge of the enclosure, shout the information to someone on the other side of a fence, and later destroy the paper. “The paper can’t come out of the high-risk zone,” he says.

Looking for a better way, he phoned Ivan Gayton, a colleague at the MSF home office in London. Gayton calls himself a logistician. He helps the organization get stuff done. In 2010, he tracked down someone at Google who could help him use its Google Earth service to map the locations of patients during a cholera epidemic in Haiti. As part of its charitable arm, Google.org, the tech giant runs a “crisis response team” that does stuff like this. So, after talking to Achar, Gayton phoned Google again, and the company responded with a new piece of tech: a computer tablet that could replace those paper notes and all that shouting over the fence.

The Tablet You Dunk in Chlorine

Over the next few months, drawing on employees from across the company, Google helped build a specialized Android tablet where Achar and other doctors could record medical info from inside the high-risk zone and then send it wirelessly to servers on the outside. Here in everyday America, a wireless tablet may seem like basic technology. But in the middle of an Ebola epidemic in West Africa, which offers limited internet and other tech infrastructure, it’s not.



The tablet is encased in polycarbonate, so that it can be dipped in chlorine and removed from the facility, and the server runs on battery power. “There was a real need for this,” says Dr. Eric D. Perakslis, part of the department of biomedical informatics at the Harvard Medical School, who has closely followed the project. “It’s very impressive, and it’s unique.”

The system is now used by Achar and other doctors in West Africa, where patients are still being treated. During the testing phase, the server ran off a motorcycle battery, but now it includes its own lithium ion batteries, much like those in your cell phone, which can charge via a portable generator. Then, inside the high-risk zone, Achar can not only wirelessly send data over the fence, but also readily access information he didn’t have before, including a patient’s latest blood test results. Plus, after dipping the thing in chlorine for ten minutes, he can take it outside the zone and continue working with it after removing his moon suit.

Yes, the Ebola epidemic appears to be wane. But the system provides a blueprint for future. After catching wind of the project, Perakslis says, he’s working to help MSF “open source” the technology, freely sharing the software code and hardware designs with the world at large. The hope is that system could also be used to battle others epidemics, including cholera outbreaks, and perhaps help with medical research, including clinical trials for drug-resistant tuberculosis. “You can think of other highly toxic environments, even laboratory environments, where this could really be helpful,” Perakslis says.

Fighting Disease Like a Tech Company

But it could also provide a path to all sorts of other new technologies for fighting disease and illness in developing countries. If tech is open source, you see, you can not only use it for free, but modify it. This is actually what MSF and Google themselves did in creating their system for the Ebola wards. In fashioning the software that runs on the tablet and server, they built atop an existing open source medical records tool called OpenMRS. One technology is just a starting point for another.

What’s more, says Ivan Gayton, the project offers a lesson in how organizations like MSF should operate. In the past, they operated according to carefully organized hierarchies of employees. And they were forced to use what came down from the big software and hardware sellers. But the tablet project was an almost ad-hoc collaboration. Achar phoned Gayton. Gayton phoned Google. Soon, Google sent about a dozen employees to London, including Google Drive project manager Ganesh Shankar, who was living in Australia. Later, Gayton says, MSF roped in several other volunteer techies from outside the organization, including a 19-year-old gaming entrepreneur.

Finally, various parts of the team, spanning multiple organizations, flew down to Sierra Leone to test and deploy the system in the real world. Organizations like MSF don’t typically work in this way, Gayton explains. And they should.

“We’ve learned new ways of doing things,” he says. “In the past, we used the Roman-legion, hierarchical, triangle structure. But Google and the tech volunteers we work with organize in different ways—ways more like what you see with open source projects like Linux, with more or less one manager and then a bunch of equal peers. That can have profound implications for the humanitarian field.”


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Eduardo Vaz's curator insight, March 25, 2015 10:33 AM

#Google created a new #Tablet, but you won't be seeing it on store shelves. #ygk

Jared Stewart's curator insight, March 27, 2015 3:12 AM

A application of modern Tablet technology to help the fight against the Ebola Virus. It also shows the possibilities of this technology being used in future epidemics.

Louisa ROQUE's curator insight, April 23, 2015 5:59 AM

When technology is useful.

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Google & Mayo collaborate to improve "googling" health info

Google & Mayo collaborate to improve "googling" health info | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

This week, Google announced plansto make those searches your patients are doing for health information more reliable by delivering information curated by its own physicians and others from the Mayo Clinic.

According to Google, one in twenty searches it gets are for health information. Now when someone searches for a common diagnosis, they’ll get information that’s been reviewed by health care professionals on the results page in the Knowledge Graph. That’s the part of the screen, separated from the results & links, that has information on your search topic.

Information will include symptoms, treatments, information on who is affected, whether its contagious, and more – all reviewed by healthcare professionals. As described by Google,

So starting in the next few days, when you ask Google about common health conditions, you’ll start getting relevant medical facts right up front from the Knowledge Graph. We’ll show you typical symptoms and treatments, as well as details on how common the condition is—whether it’s critical, if it’s contagious, what ages it affects, and more. For some conditions you’ll also see high-quality illustrations from licensed medical illustrators. Once you get this basic info from Google, you should find it easier to do more research on other sites around the web, or know what questions to ask your doctor.

Google’s internal team is led by Dr. Kapil Parakh, a heart failure cardiologist who previously practiced at Johns Hopkins and went on to become a White House fellow before joining Google. They also worked with healthcare professionals from the Mayo Clinic, whose sites often pop up as the first or second result when you search for any number of specific health conditions.

Its unclear what breadth of health conditions will be covered and in what depth. And with all of the news articles about this starting with “Dr. Google,” you’d think Google’s new search function will be diagnosing most common conditions. But by the examples offered, it seems that searches would have to be for actual health terms – measles, tonsillitis, frostbite, and so on. For patients experiencing any of these things (without a diagnosis yet), I’d guess the searches would be more vague – sore throat, red rash, or blue foot.

On the other hand, for folks who see the news about the measles or hear a friend has been diagnosed with pink eye, they’d probably use specific enough terms to see this curated health information. And for patients who may not have understood everything their doctor told them about their child’s tonsillitis or how bursitis is causing their pain, this information could be a great starting point to learn more from a reliable source.

We’ve all had the experience of patient’s walking into clinic armed with information gleaned from Googling their condition. Hopefully, this new health-specific search will mean they show up with more information from the Mayo Clinic and less from Dr. Oz.


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UpTempo Group's curator insight, February 17, 2015 9:16 PM

Google is improving their search results for health info.  Per Google's Team "We’ll show you typical symptoms and treatments, as well as details on how common the condition is—whether it’s critical, if it’s contagious, what ages it affects, and more. For some conditions you’ll also see high-quality illustrations from licensed medical illustrators. Once you get this basic info from Google, you should find it easier to do more research on other sites around the web, or know what questions to ask your doctor."

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Samsung and Fitbit currently leading wearables markets

Samsung and Fitbit currently leading wearables markets | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

With the Apple Watch launch, and its potential to upend the wearables market, a few months away, Canalys reports that the current market leader for “smart wearable bands” — any wristworn device that can run third-party applications — is Samsung. Meanwhile, the “basic wearable band” market, which Canalys defines as wearables that can’t run apps, is still led by Fitbit.

The up-and-comer in the non-smartwatch wearable market is Xiaomi, whose focus on the Chinese market and low price point have catapulted it into the spotlight. It has shipped more than a million Mi Bands, 103,000 of those on the first day. 

“Though the Mi Band is a lower-margin product than competing devices, Xiaomi entered the wearables market with a unique strategy, and its shipment volumes show how quickly a company can become a major force in a segment based solely on the size of the Chinese market,” analyst Jason Low said in a statement.

Canalys didn’t share the total shipment numbers for basic bands, but said 4.6 million smart bands shipped in 2014, only 720,000 of which were Android Wear. Of those, Motorola led the market with its Moto 360.  Samsung led the smart band segment overall, owing to the wide range of devices the company has available.

“‘Samsung has launched six devices in just 14 months, on different platforms and still leads the smart band market,” VP and principal analyst Chris Jones said in a statement. “But it has struggled to keep consumers engaged and must work hard to attract developers while it focuses on [operating system] Tizen for its wearables.”

Canalys predicts Apple’s entry into the market will blow up the category, and says the device’s battery life will be the main advantage over Android Wear to begin with.

“Apple made the right decisions with its WatchKit software development kit to maximize battery life for the platform, and the Apple Watch will offer leading energy efficiency,” analyst Daniel Matte said in a statement. “Android Wear will need to improve significantly in the future, and we believe it will do so.”


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Cheryl Palmer's curator insight, February 19, 2015 7:06 PM

WEARABLES - Market report summary on the current (Feb 2015) state of the wearables market with link to data source.  Useful to get insight into where major players are focusing their development dollars.

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Should Google Be Allowed to Mine Your Health Care Data?

Should Google Be Allowed to Mine Your Health Care Data? | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

On the heels of the I/O keynote on Thursday, Google cofounder Larry Page spilled his guts to Farhad Manjoo from The New York Times. "Right now we don't data-mine health care data," Page said. "If we did we'd probably save 100,000 lives next year." But is that actually a good idea?

Mining health care is a very slippery slope, whether it's done by Google or some government agency or anyone really. The privacy concerns alone have always kept prying eyes out of your health records. But now that technology has advanced to the point where we could anonymize the data and use the information to cure diseases, it's worth revisiting that topic.

The data store is only going to get bigger, too, as gadgets like fitness and health trackers become more ubiquitous. (Google, of course, is leading the charge on this front as well.) While Page's 100,000 figure is probably completely made up—and not even that many lives in the grander scheme of things—it seems pretty clear that a better understanding of health care data is a good thing.

So what do you think? Is it time to chill out about privacy so that Google algorithms can start saving some lives? Or would you rather keep your personal health care data personal?

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