Category Archives: Digital Health

Public Health Informatics Virtual Event on July 16-18, 2013 – Call for Abstracts!

Connect with colleagues at your own convenience!

ph informatics virtual event

This virtual event provides the opportunity to learn and discuss the latest initiatives in public health informatics with attendees from all over the country and internationally. Call for abstracts is now open and will continue until May 31, 2013. This year’s theme is “Strengthening Public Health – Health Care Collaboration.” Abstract submissions are encouraged in the following areas:

1)  Informatics policy and practice: virtual sessions will focus on national and international policy issues and their implications for public health informatics programs; applied informatics projects for programmatic support; and new initiatives

Examples might include:

  • ICD-10 CM/PCS –deadline for implementations 10/1/2014
  • Meaningful Use & Electronic Health Records
  • Interstate data exchange
  • Data exchange to support ACOs

2)  Research & Innovation: virtual sessions will focus on informatics research and technological innovation to public health and clinical settings.

Examples might include:

  • Applying analytics to new and existing data sources
  • Leveraging Big Data for population and public health
  • Learning health systems to support integration of primary care and public health
  • Novel technologies for population and public health education and communication (mobile, web, social media)

3)  Supporting Public Health Evidence Based through Informatics Practice: virtual sessions will focus on strengthening public health through knowledge sharing, evaluation, visualization and reporting.

Examples might include:

  • Evaluation methodologies and findings
  • Decision support for population health Health status and performance management dashboards
  • Community Health Assessments as part of the community health improvement process
  • Return on Investment (ROI) and Value of Information (VOI) analyses for informatics programs and systems

If any of the items above relate to your area of work, do not miss the opportunity to submit an abstract!

Help us get the word out and share this blog post with your colleagues and friends! And if you’re ready to submit an abstract go straight ahead here.

Meeting sponsors include CDC, NACCHO, and ASTHO.

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Integrating Technology into the WIC Experience – ‘Anna’ the Avatar by Dr. Phred Pilkington

Anna the AvatarBy Dr. Phred Pilkington Chief Executive Officer & Director of Public Health Cabarrus Health Alliance

With funding through the Beacon Community Program, Cabarrus Health Alliance and the North Carolina Institute for Public Health (NCIPH) collaborated to adapt a Virtual Character or avatar to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) environment. The avatar, ‘Anna,’ leverages Embodied Conversational Agent (ECA) technology from Engineered Care. ‘Anna’ was designed to introduce WIC to new participants.

The first module of the avatar is an overview of the WIC Program which teaches participants how to effectively use their benefits. ‘Anna’ is a pregnant WIC participant excited to share with her peers. She uses teach-back questions and answers to ensure user comprehension.

An additional component of the first phase of the project was to assess satisfaction with and effectiveness of the avatar technology in the WIC programs. The Southern Piedmont Beacon Community includes the counties of Cabarrus, Stanly, and Rowan and each of their local WIC Departments. This cross-section of counties allows us to study the effectiveness in rural, rural-urban, and urban health departments. The study assessed the resources and time required to implement a digital health education solution. Touch-screen tablets were provided to two WIC Programs and small computer systems were provided to the third. Paper surveys were provided to WIC clients following the interaction to assess client satisfaction, knowledge and confidence.

At this time, the evaluation is still in process; however, preliminary findings suggest that WIC participants find the ‘Anna’ experience to be an engaging one. Anecdotally, participants offered that “This was better than face-to-face cause I have a tendency to zone out when someone talks to me” and “I liked her.” In addition, ‘Anna’ appears to be an effective learning option with participants noting that “Anna is …better than a DVD” and “this was better than someone talking to you.”

Effectively this project is a pilot intended to collect some preliminary findings about the efficacy of a computer avatar as a health educator. Assuming positive results with WIC clients, we plan to expand the role of ‘Anna’ to include health education in other public health clinical services and for community-based interventions.

For a five minute demo of ‘Anna,’ please click here [wmv file].

Social Media Supporting a Public Health Emergency by the Boston Public Health Commission

Written by:

  • Anita Barry, MD, MPH, Director, Infectious Disease Bureau at Boston Public Health Commission
  • Craig Regis, MPH, Project Manager, Infectious Disease Bureau at Boston Public Health Commission

FLU_TwitterEffective and timely communication with the public has always been a critical function of local public health departments.  Whether it be alerting citizens to recent health events or distributing informative materials on disease prevention, risk communication requires public health practitioners to be on the forefront of the communication revolution.

Since the advent of the Internet, social media has revolutionized the way the public obtains information.  Though certain populations still rely heavily on traditional media such as television, radio, and print, the technological advances have caused new information services to emerge.  Social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook are widely used throughout the world, and more and more people are relying on them as their primary source for information.  Smartphones are providing immediate, on-demand access to social networking services.  As smartphone usage is higher among Black and Hispanic mobile phone users, social media also presents an opportunity to reach some vulnerable populations.1  In this new era of instant, crowd-sourced, mass communication, public health departments are using these new tools to quickly and effectively disseminate important information, especially in urgent situations where time is of the essence.

The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) was faced with such a situation in early 2013.  By early January, Boston had seen over ten times as many reported influenza cases than in all of the 2011-12 season.  The number of people going to emergency rooms and other healthcare sites for influenza like illness also markedly exceeded the prior season, creating a large burden on the healthcare system in the city, particularly the hospitals.  The Mayor of Boston declared a public health emergency on Wednesday, January 9, 2013, in order to raise awareness and to mobilize the city’s resources, including encouraging health centers to hold free influenza vaccination clinics that following weekend (January 12-13, 2013).

BPHC was faced with the task of not only keeping an anxious public informed about best practices for influenza care and prevention, but also constantly assembling and circulating a rapidly changing schedule of free influenza vaccination clinics at neighborhood health centers in response to the emergency.  No sooner was the interactive “flu calendar” updated than newly scheduled clinics required additional postings to BPHC’s public website.  The dynamic, real-time nature of social media platforms made them the best method to keep the public adequately informed about a constantly evolving situation.

BPHC’s communication infrastructure includes Twitter with tweets in both English and Spanish, Facebook, YouTube, and a blog.  BPHC’s twitter handle, @HealthyBoston, constantly tweeted updates, linked to factsheets, directed the public to the online calendar for vaccination clinics, and encouraged residents to be vaccinated.  The campaign extended to BPHC’s Facebook page, which also provided a direct link to the clinic calendar.  These platforms allowed for the swift response required during a public health crisis, and facilitated a surge in visitors to the BPHC website.  The influenza section received over 20,000 hits in less than two weeks during the emergency.  Over 80% of these hits were from new visitors, and over 16,000 were to check the clinic calendar.  The response also resulted in an increase in Twitter followers.  In weeks leading up to the flu emergency, @HealthyBoston averaged about 60 new followers per week, but gained over 600 new followers over the next month.

Social media played a pivotal role in keeping the public up to date about an ever-evolving situation with timely and accurate information.  Currently, @HealthyBoston has nearly 11,000 Twitter followers, and over 3,000 Facebook “likes.”  Recognizing the potential of social media to reach a younger audience, the BPHC Communications team launched a youth-oriented twitter handle last month called @WhatheHealth.  Though it takes a dedicated staff and time to build momentum, utilizing social media in public health communications is worth the investment.  It has the potential to increase the presence of an organization, broaden its audience, and revolutionize public health campaigns.

1Kellogg, Don. “Among Mobile Phone Users, Hispanics, Asians Are Most-Likely Smartphone Owners in the U.S.” Nielsenwire.com. N.p., 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/consumer/among-mobile-phone-users-hispanics-asians-are-most-likely-smartphone-owners-in-the-u-s/

Follow BPHC on Twitter @HealthyBoston and Facebook

Health IT at the 2013 Public Health Preparedness Summit

preparedness summit logo

People are always asking, “What is informatics and how does informatics affect me?” or “What does informatics mean to my everyday job?”  At the 2013 Public Health Preparedness Summit, there will be some great examples of how emergency preparedness is supported by innovative technology and is informed by good informatics.  In other words – not just what technology to use, but how to put this technology to good meaningful use.

A number of these sessions will focus on social media, messaging during a disaster, and new tools to reach out to different populations. These presentations highlight how critical informatics has become in preparing for and recovering from disasters.

Some of these sessions are below:

  • Dispense Assist: Online Screening Tool for Mass Dispensing and Vaccination -Implementation/Training Workshop:  This workshop will introduce you to Dispense Assist (DA) a free, online screening tool for mass dispensing and vaccination available for use by any interested jurisdiction.
  • Emergency Messaging for the Electronic Age: This workshop will explore the explosion of social media and how it has changed the way in which those in the public health field must look at risk communication and information sharing, especially in times of emergency.
  • Video-Savvy Crisis Response Workshop: Using YouTube, Skype and uStream for Effective Communication in an Emergency: You’ll learn how to use YouTube, Skype, and UStream to communicate effectively during a crisis using tools you may already have.
  • Innovations in Public Health Emergency Alerting and Notification: Presentations will address the impact of the public health capabilities on emergency alerting and information sharing practices, including the Epidemic Information Exchange and Health Alert Network programs.
  • FluCare: A Mobile Texting Service to Support Antiviral Medication Use during an Influenza Pandemic: This session will highlight the development of a mobile texting service to provide medication information and support for people who are prescribed antivirals during an influenza pandemic.
  • Cell Phone Mapping and Disaster Mental Health Preparedness Planning in Under-Resourced Black Communities: Presenters will discuss cell phone GPS software and computer-based mapping platforms that will allow community groups to easily collect data to inform planning activities. This offers an opportunity to address the digital divide and build resilience in under-resourced black communities.
  • Utilization of Mobile Health (mHealth), Social Media and Emerging Technologies for Public Health and Disaster Preparedness-Lessons Learned and Policy Implications: This sharing session will cover how mobile health, social media, and other emerging technologies offer an opportunity to improve disaster preparedness. The research presented during this session aims to identify notable practices at local health departments in using these platforms for preparedness efforts, identifying barriers to use, and assessing how to increase uptake of these methods. 
  • Effective Use of Social Media in Public Health: Promoting a Practice Exchange in Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Response: This session will explore how an online compendium of preparedness tools from across the country and a social marketing campaign created an interactive disaster preparedness community for state and local planners.
  • Prototype Tool for Analyzing Email Traffic in Public Health Emergency Operations Centers: This session will solicit input from participants on a prototype tool that CDC and Lockheed Martin have developed to analyze and visualize email traffic within an emergency response center.

We hope that you will join us at this year’s Summit to learn more about the role of ePublic Health & Informatics in emergency preparedness. Are you on Twitter? Follow @prepsummit for the latest information and use the hashtag #phps13 to follow the online conversation. To see what other sessions will be offered at the Summit and to register, please visit http://www.phprep.org/.

The Flu Strikes Back – 7 Free Online Tools to Guide You through the Flu Season

If you look around the office, it’s no surprise that more coworkers are out sick. Regions across the U.S. are experiencing an early influenza season, with activity elevated nationally.

Be informed and share these tools with your community to stay strong against the flu this season.

flu view scrnshot1. CDC Flu View  is a flu activity and surveillance site that provides weekly influenza surveillance in the Unites States. In addition to the website, its mobile app gives you options to: explore Influenza-Like Illness (ILI) Activity Levels across the US; view ILI trends over several weeks; and get on-demand access to state health department websites for local surveillance information.

2. CDC Influenza Application for Clinicians and Health Care Professionals gives the latest recommendations and influenza activity updates on your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch (Android support will be added in a future update). The app will automatically update information and content when your device is connected to the Internet. With this application, you can:

  • View updated information on national flu activity
  • Find influenza vaccination recommendations endorsed by CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)
  • Obtain information on diagnosis and treatment of influenza, including antiviral treatment recommendations by CDC and the ACIP
  • Obtain information on laboratory testing for influenza
  • Find CDC recommendations on influenza infection control
  • View videos of CDC subject matter experts discussing influenza topics
  • Order official CDC designed print products for posting in the workplace or distributing to patients.

3. MappyHealth is the winner of the “Now Trending – #Health in My Community” challenge hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, mines Twitter data to show diseases trending in communities. The data is presented through several visualizations which include maps and graphs. For more information on MappyHealth, see our interview with them here.

google flu trends scrnshot4. Google Flu Trends  aggregates search terms in real time to estimate flu activity around the world. Google notes on their Flu Trends page that searches using flu related terminology have a close correlation to people having actual flu symptoms, according to a study published in the journal Nature. The current map (as of 1/17/13) of the U.S. shows mostly “intense” flu activity.

5. Flu Near You and Vaccine Finder are administered through HealthMap of Boston Children’s Hospital in partnership with the American Public Health Association and the Skoll Global Threats Fund. Flu Near You is a popular tool among the public health community and gives a weekly reporting of influenza like symptoms (also an open data set), and shows where people are reporting symptoms within their community. A component of Flu Near You is Vaccine Finder which helps users find locations offering flu shots. Per the website, Flu Near You allows the user to do the following:

  • Complete quick surveys to advance our collective understanding of the flu
  • See flu activity in your area at the regional or state level
  • Explore flu trends around the world with Google Flu trends
  • Use the Flu Vaccine Finder to find nearby locations offering flu shots or nasal spray flu vaccine
  • Connect to local public health links
  • Receive customized email disease alerts at your location
  • Learn more about flu news, information, and resources at flu.gov
  • Explore the RSS feed on updates on nearby flu outbreaks and related flu news
  • Browse the Disease Daily to discover summaries of important outbreaks and expanded coverage through the Outbreaks 101 news section

6. Flu.gov is a Department of Health and Human Services site that has all the resources you need from print materials to widgets you can add to your website. Flu.gov provides information on symptoms, treatments, and vaccination locations for influenza.

7. Flu Defender is the third place winner of CDC’s Flu App Challenge and is a iOS app that raises awareness about influenza while providing useful information on: vaccine finder, flu activity, symptom identifier, etc. The app uses the following data sources: CDC Weekly Flu Activity Report, RSS Feed of Influenza Updates, RSS Feed of Influenza Podcasts, CDC.gov/flu website and print materials, CDC Flu Twitter feed and the Flu.gov website.

Do you know of other free online flu tools? Let us know by leaving a comment.

MappyHealth: Tracking local health trends with Twitter

In March 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) hosted the Now Trending – #Health in My Community challenge. This opportunity allowed teams to use open source Twitter data to create a web based application that would automatically deliver a list of the top-five trending illnesses from a specified geographic area in a twenty-four hour period.

The winner of the challenge, MappyHealth, encourages local health departments to use the free web-based application to track health concerns in real time in their communities using Twitter.

Watch NACCHO’s ePublic Health Blog interview with the MappyHealth team and learn how your health department can start using this innovative tool to track local health trends!

Contact MappyHealth

The BIG Data Talk and How it Can Improve Public Health

“U.S. spends more per person on health care than any other nation in the world – without obvious evidence of better outcome.” This problem may be solved by the proper use of big data.

There has been a lot of talk about big data lately. You might be wondering what this all means or how it can impact your work.

What do people mean by big data?

Big data refers to the collection of large data sets and its management for proper use. It is often considered as unstructured data. In terms of how it is applied to health, it is the idea of how it can be captured and stored effectively to be properly analyzed for correlations and valuable change in health improvement.

The best description I’ve heard of big data is by Todd Park when he describes it as “making data actionable.”

WIRED & RWJF talk big data

The WIRED magazine and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) recently had a gathering of great minds in New York City, October 12-14. The conference engaged thought leaders in a groundbreaking conversation on the future of healthcare, one which focused solely on big data. Read Dr. Phred Pilkington’s, ePublic Health & Informatics workgroup member, summary of the conference here.

RWJF’s Steve Downs, chief technology officer, recently talked about Better Data = Better Health. For him, big data “is really an umbrella concept that speaks to the huge growth in the availability of data, and its ability to drive understanding, and ultimately improvements in health.” – via RWJF

Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s president and CEO, said big data is like “watching the planet develop a nervous system.”

How might big data improve your work in public health?

Analysis of data sets:

•    Will give a clearer idea of areas of investment;
•    An emergence of innovation of new products in the industry;
•    A change to current business models;
•    More realistic short term to long term value;
•    Cost-effective measures; and
•    Proven best practices in prevention and treatment.

The list goes on.

This is only a preview of many more big data discussions to come. In the meantime, we want to hear from you.  How are you making use of big data within your community?

•    In what areas of your work would data be most useful?
•    Are you collecting data and making it actionable? How?