A search for health

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Those who were in attendance at the recent ASMI Conference will surely agree that the event boasted an impressive line up of speakers, who covered both interesting and informative topics.

While all topics discussed and debated were very worthwhile (the Appendix H panel discussion was particularly relevant and thought-provoking) – we thought we would capture a few key points discussed by Ross McDonald from Google. McDonald offered fantastic insights into Google health trends and how the search engine can be effectively utilised by the industry (and it is not as simple as developing a website and keeping your fingers crossed!).

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Some interesting facts:

  • Health queries have doubled in the past year (unsurprising, but good to know)
  • Older demographics are going online too (don’t assume your mum doesn’t Google her health questions)!
  • Health searches usually decrease immediately after Christmas (Christmas festivities and New Year Resolutions predictably keeping our anxieties at bay)
  • Some of the most popular health search topics include:
    • HIV
    • Nutrition
    • Cancer
    • There is a demand/supply gap of health information online in Australia – providers are not keeping up with the search needs of Aussie Googlers
    • Mobile searches are on the rise
    • 60% of us go online while watching TV (communications strategists who link a TV presence with a clever online component would be smiling)
    • A large proportion of searches are navigational Vs informational – this year’s most popular search term was Facebook (this is a reason to employ an SEO strategy, if there ever was one)
    • And last but certainly not least: believe it or not – Google can ‘predict’ (within a mere 3 week leadtime) when a flu pandemic is about to hit. Predictive technology records and measures the searches people run (such as flu symptoms, etc.) and forecasts the likelihood of when the population is likely to get struck by a pandemic (we are truly living in the future!)

McDonald’s words of wisdom for companies who are thinking about their online presence included:

  • Consider your organic search ranking and don’t forget the ‘sponsored links’ option  – ‘Sponsored links’ work best for consumers making an immediate decision (for example, those buying car insurance)
  • Start your digital strategy with your audience/the consumer – NOT your website or brand
  • Think beyond your website – remember your audiences are sharing information

…and share information we do – this short post is evidence of this alone.

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Will Gillard get health?

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Last week’s departure of former PM Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard’s ascent into leadership broke Australian news site traffic records. And with every other media outlet in the country still running red hot with Gillard news, it would seem almost unfair not to mention our new PM’s impact on health policy.
 
As a start, Julia Gillard has proficient experience in the area, serving for three years as the Opposition health spokeswoman during Abbott’s tenure as Federal Health Minister. She has also been involved in Rudd’s own ‘health revolution’.
 
A recent Galaxy poll shows nearly a quarter of us want to see a fast-track of the health reforms as a first priority. But what do the various industry bodies have to say about whether or not health policy will be given the red light by the new leadership?
 
The doctors
 
The AMA says that a leadership change is not likely to change the track of health policy. The group is also of the belief that Rudd’s National Health and Hospitals Network will remain in place.
 
The nurses
 
The ANF believes Gillard has what it takes to win the election – ‘Australians want a hospital, aged care and primary health care system that works and Labor has demonstrated a keen understanding of this’. The group also welcomes the first female PM into the fold.

The e-health experts
 
…say Gillard gets it and they look forward to see how the e-health agenda progresses.

The mental health advocates
 
Mental health experts are hopeful that our new leader will put mental health higher on the agenda. A great deal of momentum developed in the lead up to the leadership shake up, with over 60 organisations delivering nearly 100,000 signatories calling for an urgent focus on mental health – but this was unfortunately delivered to the wrong PM.

Professor Patrick McGorry sees this momentum as an incredible opportunity for the Gillard Government to take action and score some ‘brownie points’ in the lead up to the election.

But watch out Julia – Tony Abbott just pledged $1.5b to improve front-line mental health services if the Coalition is elected.
 
Health got a mention in Julia Gillard’s acceptance speech (video below, in case you missed it). Will this enthusiasm translate into action?

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2 health social media campaigns worth a look

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Whilst on the topic of the health impact of the ‘digital age’, it is worthwhile exploring the power its most current and relevant offspring, social media, has in disseminating health messages and empowering the public.

While it is impossible to talk about all successful campaigns at once (and this is something Cube will be keeping an eye out for), below are two campaigns which have caught our attention:

1. Twitter Autism Day

In this simple and effective example, Twitter was used to create a channel for sufferers of autism and their careAutism Awarenessrs to share their knowledge and experiences of life with autism. Communication and misunderstanding are some of the obstacles faced by people with autism. Twitter was an appropriate medium for this particular disease area, helping sufferers address these obstacles. It also allowed the community an opportunity to show their support by following and re-tweeting. A hashtag was created to help. Twitter Autism Day became a trending topic and this speaks volumes for the success of the campaign in raising awareness and public understanding of the condition (via Engaging Social Media).    

2. Digital Men’s Health Campaign

With last week marking YouTube’s 5th birthday – it is impossible not to give the popular video sharing site a hat-tip. Particularly, as sharing video content online is becoming increasingly important (41% of Australians streamline or download videos).

Click here to view is a reel which encapsulates an interesting digital campaign, developed internationally by the industry, in the area of men’s health (via http://pharmadigital.wordpress.com/). Below is a snapshot of some of the digital content generated.

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Always on the line…is social media bad for your health?

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This week has seen a resurgence in discussion about the effect mobile phones are having on our health, with a large international study receiving widespread media coverage. Suggestions about the health impact of our mobile phone habits are a popular topic, so it may be worthwhile considering the impact the so-called ‘digital age’ and the resulting constant connectivity has on our health.

Our very smart phones allow us to stay connected, longer. But next time you are getting through the flurry of work emails on your Blackberry/iPhone while in traffic or on the bus, or even at home in front of the telly, consider this: a recent study has linked working overtime to an increased risk of heart disease.

This is worrying, considering a survey found nearly one third of Americans feel they need to stay connected to work 24/7, even during weekends and holidays. With Australians working the longest hours of any other country, we must be batting a similar average.

And with almost a third of us now using our mobiles to tweet and update our Facebook accounts, is it any wonder there are suggestions some are becoming addicted? In light of this, Facebook apps like this are eerily ironic.

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Paging Dr iPad?

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In true Steve Jobs (Apple CEO) fashion, the iPad launched last week with a bang. Apple’s slick answer to the tablet computer is essentially a bigger and better iPod Touch – sitting somewhere between smartphones and small computers.

Even before the gadget has hit Australian shores, speculation about the iPad has thundered through the community. Not surprisingly, it has also made noise in the medical area – after all, many healthcare professionals already use the iPhone and about 3,100 (granted, US-centric) health apps are already in existence. This week, 6minutes published an interesting article on the iPad’s potential role in medicine, which has already attracted mixed reviews of the device from local medics.

Steve Jobs shows off the iPad

Steve Jobs shows off the iPad - Cube blog post

So, is it time to tout this new device as ‘iDoc’?

The reviews have certainly been mixed. While some suggest the iPad is what doctors have been dreaming of since the PC revolution began, others say the iPad is not ready for healthcare.

To focus on one area, many have discussed the iPad’s potential in the hospital setting. Will it help doctors with ward rounds – gathering and sharing patient information, as well as its use as a patient education tool? Features like portability, a high-definition colour touch screen, multimedia content and wireless connectivity may certainly help. However, critics list a plethora of reasons why the iPad has no place in the hospital. It’s inability to multitask or take a photo and lack of a USB port and Flash support.

Local physicians offer mixed reviews. Sydney General Practitioner Dr Raymond Seidler says that for a GP who likes gadgets, the sleek and stylish iPad has everything he wants. Both he and his 12-year-old daughter are eagerly awaiting the iPad – but for different reasons.

Dr Seidler’s daughter is looking forward to watching movies, checking her Facebook and downloading first-run books to take to school, without adding to the 15 kg to her backpack. While Dr Seidler will be able to check e-mail, YouTube and listen to podcasts from his favourite online sites, the BBC or the New Yorker.

Medical textbooks like Harrison’s online will be a click away and the large screen does away with my need for spectacles, which are necessary when I’m squinting at my tiny iPhone, he said.

Professor Jeff Szer, a Melbourne-based haematologist, agrees that technology like the iPhone/iPod Touch have a role to play in medicine. Professor Szer’s perspective on the iPad, however, is that the gadget is unlikely to change the face of how medicine is practiced.

This device has been preceded by a decade of tablet devices, none of which has found anything but niche uses in some health-related areas. I do not expect the iPad to be a game-changer.

While Professor Szer believes that “connectedness” is important for information exchange and communication in medicine, he will not rush out to buy an iPad.

A recent survey by Software Advice showed that while healthcare professionals welcome tablet computers and iPhones, this does not mean the iPad is the solution, as it lacks a number of fundamental features necessary in the healthcare field. 

The iPad certainly has its supporters and critics – but will it affect how medicine is practiced in Australia? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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Doctor or dotcom – is a digital diagnosis more important than the doc?

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Have you ever found yourself reaching for your keyboard to research an ailment you are convinced you are a perfect candidate for? “Feeling fatigued? Check! Some weight gain? Yes! General muscle pain? That confirms it, I have contracted an incurable disease,” you hear yourself say.

If this is vaguely familiar, consider yourself an active contributor to a nation of ‘cyberchondriacs.’

Most of us will admit to Googling ‘[name of an exotic/obscure illness] + symptoms’ following a late night viewing of Medical Mysteries – but are Aussies taking their health too lightly by substituting doctor with .com?

New research from research company TNS found that 1 in 4 Australians will search the internet for medical advice to self-diagnose and even treat themselves. Over a quarter of this group feel that they are able to diagnose and treat an ailment without the need of a healthcare professional.

Considering ‘pregnancy’ and ‘cancer’ are the top two Googled health conditions (generating around 7.7 million search queries each month) and the fact that anyone can publish anything online (Wikipedia, anyone?) – these findings are somewhat concerning. 

A recent HCF survey also reveals that Gen Y and women are the most common web medicos. Could this be because more than half of those aged 18-34 said they were too embarrassed to talk to a GP?

Searching for health information online

Searching for health information online

Both TNS and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) agree that while the internet has its uses, those searching for health information must be careful. People may be at risk of diagnosing non-existent symptoms and possibly using treatments which may not be appropriate.

So, next time a mystery illness on hospital drama House prompts you to e-diagnose, remember to take the information with a grain of salt and speak to your pharmacist or GP                                                                                                     if you have concerns.

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