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Doctors Turn To the Web For Disease Tracking 57

schliz writes "US researchers believe that data from sources including discussion forums and news websites can help them better cope with outbreaks of disease. The team from the Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School has launched an automated data-gathering system called HealthMap to collate, organize and disseminate this online intelligence. The team argues that online information can be hugely valuable to medical professionals by helping with early event detection. The data can also support 'situational awareness' by providing current and local information about outbreaks."
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Doctors Turn To the Web For Disease Tracking

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  • by Taco Meat ( 1104291 ) <> on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @11:38AM (#24118529)

    One of the original purposes of the ARPANET was so that researchers could share information. This is just the web being used as it was originally designed. I say this is good news, cause it shows that while the web has obviously grown, it is still useful for the original purpose. I guess they'll just have to make sure they properly authenticate posters.

  • by zcnyu ( 1322671 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @11:49AM (#24118721)

    This sounds like a reasonable solution. However I see some hurdles:
    1. random discussions that don't provide a lot of detail or relevant data
    2. discussions about historical events that generate lots of noise
    3. as mentioned previously, issues of privacy

    If someone is complaining about random symptoms on a discussion board, then receive a "complimentary" drug package in the mail from some big pharma company, it would just be too creepy.

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  • by ibanezist00 ( 1306467 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @12:03PM (#24118899)
    Over the last three years, I have found the web to be superior to my doctors' knowledge.

    I'd be very, very careful about the medical information you find on the web. A lot of it is antiquated and/or incorrect. I've had many doctors advise a lot of people about this. Example, my father got state-of-the-art prostate cancer treatment (it was minor, thank [deity of choice])that wasn't even documented on the web yet.

    Then again, who knows, they could be putting up a front because of what insurance and drug companies have told them...
  • by Bazman ( 4849 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @12:08PM (#24118997) Journal

    "The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'." It's even worse when those anecdotes are culled from miscellaneous websites, unreliably geocoded, and possibly multiply reported.

  • by KWTm ( 808824 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @03:18PM (#24122275) Journal

    You pointed out some caveats, and I agree that you can't just make a blanket statement about which is better, the Web or doctors. It looks like the Web has been able to help you more than your particular doctors. This would especially be the case if the doctors are not computer-savvy enough to look up things on the web.

    In general, I tend to enjoy my net-savvy patients more. They come prepared with background information, and they already have general knowledge about what I tell them. If they surprise me with something I'm not that familiar with (e.g "Hey, doc, what do you know about Horrible Disease X?" "Well, er, let me think ..." "Anyway, I looked it up already, and it says that you treat it with Ugali-bugali-mycin. Isn't that right?"), then I will simply admit that I don't know, and that I would like a chance to look it up as well. You do have to be humble, and not bristle at the concept that the patient might know more than you --there's no shame in that, especially if it's not your specialty.

    I, too, will use the web to look stuff up. (I generally don't do it in the patient room because, although our clinic does have computers installed there, they run IE, and I'm much more adept at the Firefox that I've secretly install in my own office desktop, complete with NoScript and Adblock.) I will tell the patient to wait while I look it up, or even that I want a few days to check, and phone them back.

    I find that, all things being equal, doctors have the advantage over patients in checking for info on the Web. (No surprise there.) Not only do I have access to websites not available to the general public (e.g. my clinic pays for access to Up-To-Date, Medline, etc.), but even on web sites that my patients can access, I am better able to zero in on the needed info, pass it through my Filter of Common Sense, and interpret it in the context of the patient. Where you have the patient being superior is where the patient has done the homework, and the doctor has note.

    So, in general, if the doctor keeps an open mind, s/he can benefit from patients who educate themselves on the Internet. My general advice to patients is also to keep an open mind --it could very well be that the web info is inaccurate and your doctor is right.

  • Re:Responses? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spasm ( 79260 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @11:53PM (#24129227) Homepage

    "2. There were some sickos during the civil war. Saving smallpox scabs in an envelope?"

    Grinding up smallpox scabs and jabbing them into your skin used to be how you inoculated people for smallpox [] before the cowpox vaccination was invented/discovered. So collecting the scabs from people who had recently had it was a pretty common practice.

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