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Aging, Medical Apps, Stanford News, Technology

Stanford Letter Project, which helps users have end-of-life discussions, now available for mobile devices

Stanford Letter Project, which helps users have end-of-life discussions, now available for mobile devices

Stanford_LetterFor many of us, the topic of how we want to spend our final days rarely comes up in discussions with our family members or doctors. And a big reason why is that we think of reflecting on how we want to die as highly emotional and unpleasant.

But there are some compelling reasons to take the time to clarify what matters to you most in your waning days of life: It can reduce stress on your loved ones and help your physician provide a better quality of care.

Earlier this year, VJ Periyakoil, MD, director of palliative care education and training at Stanford, launched the Stanford Letter Project, a campaign to empower all adults to take the initiative to talk to their doctor about what matters most to them at life’s end.

Recently, Periyakoil released mobile app versions of the Stanford Letter Project for both the iPhone and Android. The apps, which offer templates comprised of simple questions aimed at getting the end-of-life conversation rolling, are free and can be downloaded from the iTunes and Google Play stores. Templates are available in Spanish, English, Italian, Taglog, Russian and Hindi.

As Periyakoil explained in a recent 1:2:1 podcast, “2.6 million Americans die every year, and very few of them get to talk to their doctor about their end of life wishes.” She urges every adult to tell their doctors about how they want to spend their last days; she suggests engaging in end-of-life discussions each time you reach a milestone in your life such as getting married, having a baby or being diagnosed with a chronic illness.

Previously: How would you like to die? Tell your doctor in a letter, Stanford doctor on a mission to empower patients to talk about end-of-life issues, Medicare to pay for end-of-life conversations with patients and “Everybody dies – just discuss it and agree on what you want

Medical Apps, Medical Education, Medicine X, Patient Care, Technology

A look at using smartphone apps for patient-centered research

A look at using smartphone apps for patient-centered research

The usefulness and power of mobile apps in research was one of the last topics at Medicine X yesterday. One of the panelists in the late-afternoon “Clinical research in the palm of your hand” session was Stephen Friend, MD, PhD, who told attendees how willing most patients are to share their health data for science. “If you give someone a choice and ask them, ‘Do you want your data to be looked at by qualified researchers around the world?'” people usually say yes, reported Friend, president of the nonprofit biomedical research organization Sage Bionetworks.

Panelist Michael McConnell, MD, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford, can certainly attest to this: He’s principle investigator of a study, MyHeart Counts, that has seen tens of thousands of users offer up their heart-related data for study.

Stanley Shaw, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard, shared thoughts on how having an ongoing data connection with patients can feel for a physician-researcher: “I had a surprising sense of immediacy when I started looking at… data. We had people upload information such as their blood glucose levels. You can see people cranking the level down day by day over weeks or months. It really does remind you of that pact between an individual and their physician and that it’s a privilege to take care of patients. It’s very exciting.”

Also exciting is when apps are shown to have a direct impact on a patient’s care or quality of life. Friend gave the example of a program that reduced emergency room visits and hospitalizations by allowing providers to keep track of patients via an app. “If someone has been holed up in their house for four days, we can send someone to find out why,” he said. And if a patient stops taking a daily walk, that provides the medical team with clues as well.

Of course, not every patient— especially one with a chronic illness — is going to bother logging onto an app to share data every day, said Yvonne Chan, MD, PhD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital. “We talk about access and engagement,” she said, but different types of users are going to engage with an app differently. For example, asthma patients with severe, poorly-controlled baseline disease are easy to engage and keep — especially if they happen to own a smart phone. Such patients are highly motivated to better control their disease and stay out of the emergency room.

“But people with minor disease that’s well controlled, maybe they have better things to do,” she said. Apps could be designed to engage different patient populations; maybe that asthma app could have a mode that included more entertainment for patients who are less sick and less motivated.

More news about the conference is available in the Medicine X category

Events, Medicine X, Technology

From patient to entrepreneur: Three Medicine X panelists offer advice

From patient to entrepreneur: Three Medicine X panelists offer advice

patient panel

“Who better than to solve our problems in health care than the people who live it and breathe it every day?” That was the rhetorical question posed by Darla Brown, a panelist in a Saturday Medicine X session on patients as entrepreneurs. Brown, a cancer patient who co-created digital health company Intake.Me, and her two co-panelists, Molly Lindquist and Michael Seres, talked about how they took their health-related ideas from concept to reality and offered advice for the other big thinkers in the audience. Among the points made during their 45-minute session:

-Do your due diligence: As noted by Seres, a prolific patient blogger who founded the health tech start up 11Health, “there are thousands of patients who are solving real problems every day” but there may not be a widespread need for such solutions. In other words, a product or service that is helpful to one patient may not be appealing to many others. “Make sure you’re not the one person who wants this end solution,” said Lindquist, a breast cancer survivor and founder of Consano, a nonprofit crowdfunding platform for medical research.

-Talk, talk and talk some more: When exploring the validity of an idea, pick up the phone or hit the keyboard. “You don’t need to do big market research – just talk with other patients,” advised Brown. Lindquist agreed, noting that when she was thinking of starting Consano she reached out to numerous people in her professional and personal life. (She joked that when her number comes up on her friends’ cell phones these days, they likely think, “Oh, what does she want now?”) She said the ensuing conversations “helped vet the idea and the potential issues and benefits that would come from creating an organization.”

-Be able to communicate your product and its need: Especially when working with potential investors or donors, “being really solid in your mission and intent and being able to communicate that” is key, said Lindquist. Seres shared with the audience that his first investor gave him only a “tiny bit of money” and wanted Seres to show him he could be successful on a larger scale. “Ultimately you have to prove the business model and be clear on who your target audience is and whether [your idea] is big enough,” he said.

-Know there will be challenges: “I’ve been patient for more than 30 years. I felt I knew everything about my condition and my health and my journey,” but navigating the business world was a whole different ballgame, Seres said. (He later noted that he still doesn’t think of himself as founder of a technology company: “I’m just a patient providing a solution for a problem no one else” was working on.) But patients have resilience, he pointed out, and “given what you’re dealing with on a daily basis nothing is impossible.” Brown also offered the practical tip of reading The Business Model Generation, which she and Emily Lu, MD, (the panel’s moderator) consulted before starting Intake.Me.

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Events, Medicine X, Patient Care, Technology

At Medicine X, designers offer their take on why patient-centered design is top priority

At Medicine X, designers offer their take on why patient-centered design is top priority

Aaron Sklar at MedXAs a Medicine X veteran, I’m used to hearing patients talk about the importance of putting patients’ needs first. But yesterday afternoon, I got to hear about patient-centered design from designers.

At a session called “Fulfilling the promise of technology in health through human centered design,” Joan Saba, an architect who designs hospitals for NBBJ, used a personal story to illustrate how good design is essential to patient care. Her mother recently became sick and needed to stay at the hospital overnight, and “this is where she spent 24 hours,” she said. Sounds of ambulances wailing and doors slamming filled the lecture hall while an image of a bed surrounded by electrical cords and medical equipment lit up the screen. “Her room was right above the ambulance bay,” Saba explained.

With recent advances in technology, hospital rooms don’t need to look, sound or feel like this, said Saba. “So, what should a patient’s room look like now?” It being a calm place (unlike her mom’s room) is important, but there are other considerations, too: “Now we are thinking about it being a place for learning and information exchange.”

This desire to think about such an exchange, and improved doctor/patient communication, was echoed in the talk by Marc Katz, MD, MPH, chief medical officer of the Bon Secours Heart & Vascular Institute. He told the story of meeting patient-advocate Sarah Kucharski, who has the rare disease fibromuscular dysplasia and has endured many medical procedures, including a triple bypass surgery, back at the first Medicine X. “I go to several media conferences a year, and this was the first time I’d seen a patient present,” he recalled. “This was an eye-opening experience.”

Hearing about what Kucharski went through, prompted Katz to start querying other patients about their cardiac surgeries. “The biggest problem was communication — patients didn’t feel they understood what was happening [while at the hospital],” Katz said. So he helped develop Co-Pilot, a program that assigns a personal nurse to each patient. The program is still in its early stages but it seems to be paying off, Katz said: In a sample of about 150 patients, the Co-Pilot program reduced the duration of hospital stay and readmission, also, patients reported greater satisfaction.

After a talk from pain management expert Frank Lee, MD, on a project he started to increase transparency about the way patients’ prescription narcotic use is tracked and to hopefully, in turn, curb prescription painkiller abuse, speaker Aaron Sklar closed things off with a provocative statement. Sklar, managing director at Healthagen and co-founder of Prescribe Design, suggested it may be “time for technology to fade into the background.” What he meant is that it is the patient, not technology, that should be at the center of health-care design. “Actually we just coined a new term to describe this,” Sklar said. “D-patients: Patients that design.”

More news about the conference is available in the Medicine X category. Those unable to attend the event in person can watch via webcast; registration for the Global Access Program webcast is free. We’ll also be live tweeting the keynotes and other proceedings from the conference; you can follow our tweets on the @StanfordMed feed.

Photo of Sklar courtesy of Stanford Medicine X

Events, Medical Education, Medicine X, Patient Care, Precision health, Technology

“No ordinary conference”: The magic that is Medicine X returns to the stage

"No ordinary conference": The magic that is Medicine X returns to the stage

Larry Chu welcoming attendeesMedicine X, Stanford’s popular conference on emerging technologies and medicine, returned to the stage today.

The conference, which was proceeded by the first-ever Medicine X | Ed, is now in its fourth year, and the momentum and magnitude of the event has steadily increased since it began.

Last year, more than 4,000 participants in 69 countries took part in the Medicine X experience via Twitter, making it the most-discussed academic conference in the world. Its past successes were reflected in the theme for Medicine X 2015: “Great Xpectations.”

After executive director Larry Chu, MD, welcomed attendees with a reminder that they “all belong here,” Lloyd B. Minor, MD, dean of the medical school, officially opened the conference with remarks that encouraged this engaged audience to take action and seize opportunities to improve health care. “This is no ordinary time in our history, and Medicine X is no ordinary conference,” he said. “We are here today to have discussions and generate ideas about how to leverage the power of information and the latest technology to improve health for people in our own communities and across the globe. Health care is truly the opportunity of our lifetime.”

Minor talking“Since last year’s Medicine X conference, Stanford Medicine has launched a bold new initiative — our vision to lead the biomedical revolution in precision health,” he said. “Precision health as the next generation of precision medicine: Precision medicine is about sick care, precision health is about health care.” Everyone participating in this event is an important part of moving this conversation forward, he explained.

Eric Topol, MD, chief academic officer at Scripps Research Institute and bestselling author, went on to give an opening keynote on ways we can use new technologies to democratize medicine and involve the patient in his or her own care. “We have views of the human being that we never had before,” Topol said, referencing smartphones and other technologies that people use to monitor their health metrics.

These new technologies are important because they’re interactive and easy for patients to use, and they allow patients to become more involved in their health care, Topol explained. He showed an image of the iconic black doctor’s bag. “These are vintage tools,” he said. “This is my bag,” he explained, pointing to an image of a several digital tools.

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Media, Medical Education, Medical Schools, Medicine X, Technology

Integrating digital literacy into medical education

Integrating digital literacy into medical education

21474271319_dc2d63f449_zBertalan Mesko, MD, PhD, has cracked the code on convincing medical students that digital literacy skills are equally as important as clinical knowledge. Seats in his Social MEDia course fill up within 45 seconds of registration opening. Former students report a 100 percent satisfaction rate with the class, and 80 percent of those enrolling in the course heard about it from a classmate. How does Mesko do it? As it turns out: daily educational challenges promoted on Facebook, an arsenal of high-tech gadgets and lots of chocolate.

On Thursday at Stanford Medicine X|ED, Mesko shared his secrets with medical educators on how to develop a digital literacy curriculum that will engage millennial learners and keep pace with the ever-changing landscape.

A self-describe medical futurist, Mesko launched his class on social media in medicine in 2008 when Facebook and Twitter were still in their infancy. “I wanted to design the curriculum for students to prepare them for the future that is coming toward us,” he said. “My goal was to help them understand how to use these tools to be more productive and stay up to-date.”

Early on, the curriculum centered on his experience with social media tools, such as blogging, Twitter and Facebook. But as the field of digital media and medical devices has evolved, so has the class. These days, he’s constantly updating the coursework to the point where he never gives the same lecture twice. “Platforms come and go, but it’s the concepts and practices that really matter,” said Mesko, who teaches at Semmelweis University in Hungary. “Whenever I talk about these topics, I do everything live.”

Most students have been active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media accounts, long before they enroll in Mesko’s class. However, he still believes it’s important to provide an introduction to social media; discuss search engines and the Google story; and provide instruction on medical blogging, crowdsourcing and mobile health.

“Students need some fundamental digital knowledge before diving into the topics of e-patients and how to empower patients,” said Mesko, author of the recently released book My Health: Upgraded . “Additionally, many students don’t fully understand the privacy polices of these services. I tell them to remember that there is no difference between offline or online conduct.”

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Events, Medical Education, Medicine X, Research, Stanford News, Technology

Medicine X 2015 kicks off this week with a focus on the theme “Great eXpectations”

Medicine X 2015 kicks off this week with a focus on the theme “Great eXpectations”

15146055376_5600a69df1_zThought-leaders and innovative thinkers will gather on campus this week for Medicine X. Stanford’s premier conference on emerging health-care technology and patient-centered medicine, the three-day event will be held at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge and focus on the theme “Great eXpectations.”

Eric Topol, MD, chief academic officer at Scripps Research Institute, will kick off the conference on Friday with a keynote on democratizing medicine. Additional keynote speakers include Robert Pearl, MD, executive director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group; and Peter Bach, MD, director of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Center for Health Policy and Outcome. The program will also feature panels and presentations exploring the topics of precision medicine, aging, health and community and misconceptions and misperceptions in health care.

This year, Medicine X will be preceded by the first-ever Medicine X|ED conference. The two-day event, which begins on Wednesday, will examine the role of technology and networked intelligence in shaping the future of medical education. Digital media pioneer Howard Rheingold; Abraham Verghese, MD, vice chair for the theory and practice of medicine for Stanford’s Department of Medicine; and Sarah Stein Greenberg, executive director of the Stanford, will deliver keynote speeches at the conference. Medicine X|ED will focus on five core themes: Engaging millennial learners, opportunities and challenges for innovation in medical education, interdisciplinary learning, and how digital media and massive open online courses are redefining the educational landscape. Participants will also have the option to participate in a range of interactive and educational opportunities.

Those unable to attend the conferences in person can participate in the plenary sessions virtually through a high-quality streaming webcast; registration for the Global Access Program webcast is free. We’ll also be live tweeting the keynotes and other proceedings from the conference. You can follow our tweets on the @StanfordMed feed or follow the hashtag #MedX.

More news about the conference is available in the Medicine X category.

Previously: Medicine X conference to focus on the theme of “Great eXpectations”, Registration now open for the inaugural Stanford Medicine X|ED conference and Stanford Medicine X: From an “annual meeting to a global movement”
Photo by Medicine X

Global Health, Health Disparities, Pediatrics, Stanford News, Technology

Sunshine solves a life-threatening newborn health problem — with a little help from Stanford experts

Sunshine solves a life-threatening newborn health problem — with a little help from Stanford experts

jaundice-greenhouseWhen pediatrician Tina Slusher, MD, began caring for newborns in Nigeria in 1989, she saw two big threats to the babies’ health: severe jaundice and tetanus.

“I thought, ‘Tetanus will go away with immunization, but nobody really seems to understand this jaundice problem,'” Slusher, a global pediatrics expert at the University of Minnesota, told me recently. In developing countries, well over 150,000 babies a year currently die or suffer severe brain damage from jaundice. “They still aren’t getting treated,” Slusher says.

But now, thanks to Slusher and her colleagues, that is set to change. She is the lead author on a scientific paper in the New England Journal of Medicine that evaluated a low-tech, inexpensive method for treating jaundice with filtered sunlight. The technology was conceived and built at Stanford, by a team led by neonatal jaundice expert David Stevenson, MD.

Newborn jaundice is caused by a delay after birth in development of the baby’s ability to metabolize compounds released in the breakdown of red blood cells. In the U.S. and other developed countries, most cases are treated with phototherapy. But putting a baby under a blue-light-emitting lamp isn’t feasible in places that lack steady electricity. The team members, who also included doctors and researchers at the Massey Street Children’s Hospital in Lagos, Nigeria, wondered if they could safely use filtered sunshine instead.

From our press release about the new study:

Some mothers and babies sat under outdoor canopies that filtered out harmful wavelengths from sunlight, but still allowed jaundice-treating blue wavelengths to reach the babies’ skin. The filtered-sunlight treatment was as safe and effective as the blue-light lamps traditionally used to treat infant jaundice.

“This research has the potential for global impact,” said the study’s senior author, David Stevenson, MD, the Harold K. Faber Professor in Pediatrics and senior associate dean for maternal and child health at Stanford. “All babies can get jaundice. In settings with no access to modern devices, we’ve shown we can use something that’s available all around the planet — sunlight — to treat this dangerous condition.” Stevenson also directs the Johnson Center for Pregnancy and Newborn Services at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.

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Genetics, In the News, NIH, Science, Technology

The quest to unravel complex DNA structures gets a boost from new technology and NIH funding

The quest to unravel complex DNA structures gets a boost from new technology and NIH funding

5232013153_7808b471a2_zIf you’ve ever tried folding a map, packing an overnight bag or coiling a string of holiday lights, you know that the way you arrange an object affects how much space it takes up and how easy it is to use in the future. This same principle is true of DNA.

As a recent article in Science News explains, the way a DNA double helix is folded, packed and coiled is known to have a big effect on how much space it requires and how easy it is to access the information stored within. But, until recently, researchers lacked the technology to fully explore these four-dimensional DNA structures.

Now, new technology and last year’s launch of the National Institutes of Health‘s five-year, $120 million, 4D Nucleome project is helping researchers reveal the complex architecture of DNA. William Greenleaf, PhD, assistant professor of genetics at Stanford, discusses the significance of a genome‘s arrangement in the Science News article:

Like the genetic text within it, the genome’s shape holds specific instructions. “The way it’s compacted forms this sort of physical memory of what the cell should be doing,” Greenleaf says.

Loops of DNA that aren’t needed by a particular cell are tucked away from the biological machinery that reads genetic blueprints, leaving only relevant genes accessible to produce proteins. Studies have shown that sections of the genome that are shoved toward the edges of a nucleus are often read less than centrally located DNA. Such specialized arrangements allow cells as diverse as brain cells, skin cells and immune cells to perform different jobs, even though each contains the same genome. “In different cell types, there are very large changes to the regions that are being used,” Greenleaf says.

Much more remains to be understood about how a genome’s shape directs its activity. Future maps might zero in on functionally interesting regions of the genome, Greenleaf says. But he cautions there is also a benefit to unbiased, general exploration. Focusing on one location in the nucleome might lead researchers to miss important structural information elsewhere, he says.

Previously: DNA origami: How our genomes foldPacked and ready to go: The link between DNA folding and disease and DNA architecture fascinates Stanford researcher – and dictates biological outcomes
Photo by: Kate Ter Haar

Bioengineering, Research, Stanford News, Technology

New Stanford-developed technology bypasses “virtual reality sickness”

New Stanford-developed technology bypasses "virtual reality sickness"

headset_newsResearchers in the Stanford Computational Imaging Group have developed a new virtual reality headset that takes into account how the human eye focuses and processes depth.

Current display technologies are essentially two-dimensional and don’t present images the way our eyes were designed to see them, which can cause “virtual reality sickness,” or VR sickness for short, after only a few minutes.

The new system involves two transparent LCD displays with a spacer in between, which is called “light field technology.” A Stanford News article describes a light field as creating “multiple, slightly different perspectives over different parts of the same pupil. The result: you can freely move your focus and experience depth in the virtual scene, just as in real life.”

Gordon Wetzstein, PhD, assistant professor of electrical engineering, developed the technology along with researchers Fu-Chung Huang and Kevin Chen. In the news piece, Wetzstein listed the variety of applications this advance could have, robotic surgery top among them: “If you have a five-hour [robotic] surgery, you really want to try to minimize the eye strain that you put on the surgeon and create as natural and comfortable a viewing experience as possible.”

But the applications aren’t limited to what has already been imagined. Wetzstein explains, “Virtual reality gives us a new way of communicating among people, of telling stories, of experiencing all kinds of things remotely or closely. It’s going to change communication between people on a fundamental level.”

You can access a short video on the new development here.

Previously: Fear factor: Using virtual reality to overcome phobias, From “abstract” to “visceral”: Virtual reality systems could help address pain, Double vision: How the brain creates a single view of the world, Discover magazine looks at super human vision and Augmented reality iOS app for color vision deficiency
Photo by Vignesh Ramachandran

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