Sunday, 18 November 2007

What is Health 2.0 / Medicine 2.0?

This definition is written for two purposes:

  1. To clarify what Health 2.0 / Medicine 2.0 is for myself. I figured that if I was going to make a contribution to discussions in this arena, I had better first make sure I had my facts straight - this is a chance for me to say what I think I know, and then for all the Health 2.0 Seasoned Veterans out there to correct me/argue with me where any inaccuracies are identified.

  2. To explain in simple terms what Health 2.0 / Medicine 2.0 is to the medical professional who does not have a special interest in technology. I figure that if I can write one simple definition/explanation, I can save myself having to construct a comprehensive answer each time the question arises - I'll just reuse this one.

I understand that there are plenty of definitions/explanations already out there, so I ask for you patience whilst I take this opportunity to reinvent the wheel (and sorry if I may seem to be stating the obvious to some of you - the real target audience here is the doctor without much knowledge of IT terminology).

The Background - Web 2.0

Both Health 2.0 and Medicine 2.0 are derived from the term Web 2.0, which implies a second generation/release of the Internet.

The '2.0' part is based on computer programming - as a new edition of a an application is released, it is common practice for the programmers to add an incrementing number at the end of a program's name, to label the new version. A completely new release would see the increment of the whole number, and any intermediate releases (often referred to a 'patch', as it may be patching up problems with a previous release) would see an increment to the decimal number. An example of this is Internet Explorer 7.0 - there have already been small patches to fix Internet Explorer - mine currently says that I am on version 7.0.5730.11 - I guess if there is a substantial release that enhances IE 7.0, but is still fundamentally the same program, it may be called IE 7.1, 7.2, etc - a new generation of IE could for example be called IE 8.0

Web 2.0 implies the 'second release' of the Internet - which of course is not based on anything concrete - the Internet being made up of millions of interconnecting computers running lots of different programs - but is more of a concept to describe the type of programs/applications/functionality one can now find on the Internet.

The Internet was originally based on mostly static pages of information. Soon to follow were email, web forums and chat rooms where discussions could take place. Web 2.0 refers to a trend on the Internet that saw a step forward in the way we communicate on the Internet, which includes the use of blogs, videos, podcasts, wikis and online communities where people with common interests get together to share ideas, media, code and all types of information. RSS (really simple syndication) is a format/method to help pass around updates about all this new information we are now broadcasting.

Think of the Internet like a big brain - there is no 'central repository' of information - it is stored in lots of different locations, but each part of the brain has its own important part to play. Web 1.0 was a bit like the brain cells developing and Web 2.0 is what is happening now that communications are taking place between those cells.

Health 2.0 / Medicine 2.0

So now you know what Web 2.0 is, the rest is easy. Health 2.0 is the application of Web 2.0 technologies in the area of health, whilst Medicine 2.0 is the use of Web 2.0 technologies in the area of medicine. Some examples can be seen in the Medical 2.0 Directory. I have come to think of Health 2.0 websites as being those that provide services geared towards the consumer, and Medicine 2.0 those geared towards services for the medical professional - although I am sure there will be those who will debate this with me. Regarding my own website, MedWorm, I decided that it was MedHealth 2.0, since it was providing a service equally for both consumer and professional alike.

The Future - Web 3.0 / Health 3.0 / Medicine 3.0

Of course many are now speculating ... (to be continued)

Just realised that the future - Health 3.0 - would make a better post of its own.

Monday, 22 October 2007

RSS 2 Email - Progress or hindrance?

Subscription to TOCs via email has been a popular method amongst physicians of keeping up to date with their favourite medical journals for some time. I was hesitant to provide such a service on MedWorm since I wanted to introduce physicians to the benefits of RSS.

My reluctance to provide an alternative to an RSS aggregator was based on experience in rolling out new systems in large companies. There are always a core group of pioneers that are eager to try out the implementation of a new system, but the majority will need 'cajoling' and there will always be the 'die hards' that need forcibly removing from their old ways of working. The final solution, if management really want to see a new system take off, is the turning off, or outlawing use of, a previous system.

My reasoning, therefore, was that if doctors are going to really embrace RSS, an alternative, such as subscription via email, should not be made available. If I did not provide a subscription via email alternative, doctors would have to, at some point, make use of an RSS aggregator if they wanted to benefit from the information that was available.

However, this argument was flawed by a few factors. Firstly, an email alternative will always be available. Doctors can usually go directly to a publication to subscribe to a journal's table of contents or can use a third party RSS 2 Email service. Secondly, my argument was assuming that the use of an RSS aggregator in place of email was in fact progress and a better way forward.

Watching the uptake of RSS by doctors over the past year has been frustratingly slow. I just have to look at my husband (a doctor) to realise what a big problem this is, and will continue to be. He has RSS forced on him every day. He knows what it is, how it can benefit him. He has an RSS aggregator installed for him and a personal tutor breathing down his neck. I have even been offering to install some feeds for him on his mobile phone - an offer which he hasn't yet taken me up on. Now my husband is young and technically savvy. He loves technology and the latest gadgets. Often it is him who points me in the direction of the latest advances. But does he use an RSS aggregator? Well, not exactly I would say; occasionally; at a push. Why not? Well, it means either opening another application, which takes a fair few seconds, and then waiting for those feeds to refresh, which takes some time more, and having an RSS reader running in the background does seem to add to the performance hit on his computer.

The alternative, an online RSS reader, also has its drawbacks. First you have to open a new web browser. You have to navigate to your online service and then you have to log on. Before all of this, you first have to find a service that you like, add your feeds (which will often fall over for a variety of reasons) and familiarise yourself with how the service works.

Either solution does not qualify with motivational criteria by which my husband operates:

1. Things that are essential, or time saving, in order to complete his work.
2. Enjoyable and absolutely nothing to do with work.

Some would argue that using an RSS aggregator is time saving and would actually help him complete his work (as indeed would I), but the problem here is that the time saved is indirect. In trying to write a report, or find the best treatment for a condition, or pass an exam, RSS would not often be a tool to which one would turn.

Others would argue that using RSS is enjoyable. But for my husband, and I guess the majority of doctors, his idea of enjoyment is something that helps him forget everything that is medically related (although I have noticed that he particularly enjoys watching House, which is a bit of an anomaly).

Now time for a confession. Quite shocking really. I don't really use an RSS aggregtor that often myself. At least not on on the face of it. Ouch! That hurt! Why don't I? And how can I expect others to use it if I, who has realised that RSS is the Bees Knees, don't make full use of it?

I don't often use an RSS reader for a few reasons. Most of the online RSS readers I don't like that much. Google Reader is the most accessible, especially since I have a reminder that is is there whenever I log on to my Google account, which I do for emails, AdSense and my blog. But I find it a little clumsy and wastes a lot of screen space. When starting out on my RSS adventure I tested every aggregator I could find on the market. My favourite was the free, somewhat 'amateur' FeedReader which I really liked for its simplicity. I found that its navigational tree and three window layout enabled me to scan through hundreds of articles in seconds without any clutter. But its disadvantage was the time it took to load and refresh all the feeds, and unless I kept on top of the data and cleared it out regularly, I found that it was slowly filling up my hard drive with thousands of cached items.

The other reason I don't use an RSS aggregator that often is that I am quite lazy in keeping up to date with the latest advances in, well, just about everything, hence just 'can't be bothered'. Regarding technology and Web 2.0, I tend to leave it to David to do the research and let him point out to me if I am trying to reinvent the wheel. I find myself far to preoccupied with my own work that I forget to look at what other people are doing (yes to my own detriment I am sure - something I am currently trying hard to change by spending/wasting a lot more of my time reading other people's blogs).

But hang on a minute, it's not that bad after all, since MedWorm is actually one big aggregator in disguise. Even without bothering to log on I find I can easily keep a track on the latest ideas in which I am interested. I like to keep a watch on the Blog Cloud, in particular items tagged RSS, Health 2.0 and Medicine 2.0, as well as keeping an eye on the Information Technology section of the publications directory, the Technology Consultant and Medical Librarian section of the blogs, as well as the Cancer section of the blogs (which I find keeps me a check on reality and the priorities in my life). And then when I want to pay particular attention to my reading list, I do log on, which enables me to read items I am really interested in via my River of News, keep a track on my reading history and easily save items that are of particular interest to me.

Excuse-me, I digress. The topic was RSS 2 Email. I knew that people wanted this. A medical librarian from down under was specifically looking for such a service which prompted me to finally give way and implement this functionality on MedWorm. The design of the service was tweaked by valuable input from medical technology analyst, Dr Sheela Sharma, who very kindly provided me with the following feedback:

"RSS is a great idea, but I just don't have enough time in the day to look at both my e-mails and RSS feeds. So the service that you are providing is ideal!"

Funnily enough, even though I was dead against the idea in the first place, I'm actually finding I really like receiving RSS 2 Email myself. I don't think I would want to receive hundreds of updates from lots of feeds to my email, but for my favourite, carefully selected feeds, having a nicely formatted email conveniently land in my inbox with the latest updates is working really nicely for me and has given me some ideas on how I might further develop this area, to incorporate the best of both worlds - RSS and email working together - in perfect harmony - maybe that's what would really bring RSS to the masses.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

MedWorm - Medicine 2.0 or Health 2.0?

I've been sitting on the fence for a while reading about Medicine 2.0 and Health 2.0. Now I'm the kind of person that really hates hype and likes to go against the trend, and see myself as a 'doer' rather than a 'talker', so up until now I've resisted getting involved in this 'idle chit chat' and laid low whilst I spend my days building MedWorm.

But now I'm thinking, what the heck? Just so long as I don't get drawn into the ongoing debate between Sermo and Medgadget regarding security/privacy loop holes in social networking models ;)

To begin my debut into the 2.0 arena, I have been looking at the difference in usage between the terms Medicine 2.0 and Health 2.0 From what I understand, Medicine 2.0 is used when referring to Web 2.0 sites primarily for medical professionals, whilst Health 2.0 is a term used for sites geared towards health consumers (a term that I find somewhat strange coming from the UK - here we don't really consider patients as 'consumers', probably due to the provision of the NHS - health is considered a basic right, not really something that we buy/consume).

So is MedWorm Medicine 2.0 or Health 2.0? Is it for the doctor or the patient? My original intention was that it would be for the doctor (and other health professionals) with articles grouped by medical speciality. But then I realised that a lot of people assumed it was actually for the patient, since it was providing a user friendly way for people to find the latest information about their particular conditions.

I was sent a kind comment by another webmaster who is using a MedWorm feed to help populate his own site with relevant new content for a particular condition:

'Medworm fits in a sweet spot between medical professionals and the lay public.'

It was at this point that I began to clarify my vision for MedWorm. It would provide a forum for understanding and discussion among both medical professionals and consumers. Note that I say discussion 'among', rather than 'between'. A lot of Health 2.0 sites are providing an extension of service between doctors and their patients - patients ask questions, doctors give answers, which is all well and good.

However, as I see it, for Medicine/Health 2.0 to take that real leap forward (to dare I say it, Medicine/Health 3.0?) I don't see an automation of services being the end result as some might (for example, the diagnosis of a patient by computer - input all the information and the computer tells you what the problem is, and the cure/medication). I believe that computers will never replace man's intelligence, rather assist it. The Internet opens up new lines of communication that before were never possible. Like the building of roads, the invention of the automobile, the aeroplane, the telephone - all of these things opened up new ways of communicating and hence working.

In today's society, patients now want to know much more about their conditions (and rightly so!) Many want to know all there is to know, will read all the latest research, and will often know more (about their particular condition) than their physician. Not that I think the physician has any less an important role to play than before - their medical education and experience will always be vital in guiding the patient down the right path of thought, to put their limited understanding into a wider medical context - but this for sure will become increasingly a different role than previously understood, whereby almost everyone followed the doctor's instructions without question.

The Internet provides an amazing opportunity for medical professionals and health consumers to unite in the battle to solve many of life's ills. I'm talking here about truly working 'together', not just side by side. Think about it - patients, and their families, have motivation that a physician never could. Often their lives are at stake. Patients will go to extraordinary lengths to raise money and awareness for their cause. Increasingly, this is becoming the same for research. Look at the advances in Aids/HIV research that were made in the 1980s - wasn't this due largely to the patient led Aids awareness groups that were busy raising the public profile , drilling up funds and even getting personally involved with research into this devastating disease? But without the knowledge and firm grounding in science that a medical professional holds, this enthusiasm can be easily misdirected. I think that patients, physicians and medical researchers working together is vital if real advances are to be made in solving some of life's' biggest problems.

Already we are seeing a move towards this new way of communicating, with patient blogs being increasingly subscribed to by physicians, and vice verse. It is my hope that MedWorm can help facilitate the opening of such lines of communication. First off, by ensuring that the right people get the right information - both patients and physicians want to read consumer style health news and the latest research. Secondly, it now provides a forum for discussion centered around the latest publications - it does not matter whether you are a professional or a consumer - MedWorm is visited equally by both and the ultimate objective between these two groups is the same. For this reason MedWorm does not have any issue with identifying who is a professional and who is not - all are welcome, and since discussions are centred around professional publications and authentic news sources, and are moderated, this helps to keep discussions focused on MedWorm's objective - the advance of medical knowledge. Thirdly - well, watch this space - don't want to give too much away about my plans for the future!

As for an answer to my question, is MedWorm Medicine 2.0 or Health 2.0? It is neither, or maybe it is both. It is Medhealth 2.0.

Monday, 1 October 2007

RSS Reader in my Mobile Phone

I've just bought a new phone. It is a Sony Ericsson K800i
What a pleasant surprise to see it includes a pre-installed RSS reader!
This will surely increase the take-up of RSS, as people scroll through the available functions on their phones they are bound to ask 'what is RSS?' when they see 'RSS Reader' with its little orange icon listed. And what better a way for busy doctors to receive all the latest news updates on their speciality than directly to their mobile phone/Blackberry?

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Copywriting RSS Feeds

Whilst 'feed fishing' for MedWorm, I came across several cancer blogs that I would have liked to add to the cancer category on MedWorm, but was saddened to see the following copywrite notice at the bottom of the feed items:

Copyright © 2007 (blog title removed) This Feed is for personal non-commercial use only. If you are not reading this material in your news aggregator, the site you are looking at is guilty of copyright infringement. Please contact so we can take legal action immediately.

Legal action immediately - ouch - some people just love their lawyers don't they? So I didn't add those feeds. I wonder if the cancer patients writing those blogs realise that their feeds are now being left out? Of course I respect that an individual may want their feed removing from MedWorm, for a number of reasons, which I would do so immediately if requested, but this talk of legal action leaves me feeling cold.

Feeds added to MedWorm have the potential to attract hundreds more site visitors as a result (checking my last stats, some sites were getting into the thousands). More people reading, sharing knowledge and experience - it's got to be a good thing, right? Especially when we are talking medical knowledge. Who cares how people get the information, so long as it is getting out? A real shame I think - very 'anti Web 2.0 / Health 2.0 / Medicine 2.0' - I hope it is not a trend that will grow.

My advice - if you aren't prepared to share your data, don't create an RSS feed, simple! You can't have it both ways - either share it, or don't.

Cancer Survivors - Forgotten?

Minerva continues her diary of insight into cancer survivorship. As cancer treatment improves, I guess there is an ever increasing population or people adjusting to life after cancer. I wonder if the same support is there for these people after their big fight, as there was before? I never really considered how hard life can be after treatment.

Here's a link for cancer survivors to follow (or anyone wanting to understand a little more about cancer survivorship):

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

10 Places to Use RSS in Medicine

  1. Medical Blogs - to announce new blog items and new comments.
  2. Journals - every medical journal should by now have an RSS feed for each article, with abstracts included as descriptions where possible.
  3. Newsletters - if your company or organisation provides a newsletter, make sure it is accompanied by an RSS feed.
  4. Press Releases - make sure you have an RSS feed to accompany release press releases - a great way to get your news out quickly.
  5. Events - if you have a calendar or events, such as conferences, exhibitions, seminars or meetings that you want people to know about, advertise them for free with an RSS feed.
  6. Jobs - if you are a large organisation, RSS feeds, by speciality, could be an ideal way of publicising your latest vacancies.
  7. Training Courses - you could use RSS to advertise courses, pass on course content to your students, back up your teaching with assignment details, or even publish the whole course content online.
  8. Podcasts and Videos - if your organisation is starting to make use of podcasts and videos to reach your target audience, make sure you have an RSS feed to announce your new media releases.
  9. Images - databases of images are fast becoming a useful method of sharing knowledge on the Internet between physicians. They should be accompanied by RSS feeds to announce new images as they are added.
  10. Site Maps - if you have a website you may be familiar the site map, which is used in particular by search engines, as a table of contents to your website. Try creating an RSS feed to accompany your site map - that way whenever you add a new page to your website, you can be sure that your site visitors will be alerted to its existence (and you will be able to get your medical website fully indexed by MedWorm).

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

One Month to Live

Dear Bobbie was told a few weeks ago that she had just one month to live. She has gallbladder cancer that has spread throughout her body. The news was a big shock to us all. I don't know if she was expecting it - she just went in to hospital to have an exploratory operation - we just thought she had gall stones. She seems to be handling things very well - too well many would say.

Bobbie is a wonderful lady that runs a mothers and babies coffee morning each Friday. She charges nothing and asks for just a small donation for tea, coffee and her homemade cakes. Each week she arrives early and sets out several themed areas for play - a kitchen with old fashioned cooking utensils and dough, a dressing up area, cars and trains with garages and stations, baby slides and cushions...At the end of each session she packs everything away with meticulous care and attention - everything has its place - mind you don't place the large cars in the small cars box, and make sure that the tiny dolls clothes go in the little box inside the cotton bag. Everything is brushed down, cleaned and disinfected. Her perfection is somewhat intimidating for those who do not know her better.

This is the first time that cancer has had a personal effect on my life. My grandad died of lung cancer, but I was quite young and didn't know him very well, and my parents know several people who have died from cancer, friends of the family. But this is the first time someone that has made an impression on my life, all be it for a short amount of time, has got ill with cancer, and the first time that I have known anyone with a terminal illness.

Just one month to live! Doesn't seem real at all especially since she appears to be quite well. Bobbie has been busy sorting out her house so that she can leave things as organised as possible for her husband - who just a month previously nearly lost his own life due to a nasty fall off a ladder. She talks candidly about her illness - uncomfortable to some, but a relief to myself, since I wanted to talk to her about her predicament, yet was not sure how to approach the subject. She told me how her son, who works for a pharmaceutical company, has sent her several crates of Chinese medicine, that has apparently had some success in fighting gallbladder cancer. We are all hopeful that it will work somehow, and that Bobbie will prove the doctors wrong, to outlive the estimated four weeks with which she has so unfairly been dealt.

I wanted to ask Bobbie if there was anything I could do to help - but how can you honestly help someone who has been told they have just one month left to live? I've offered to assist with the maintenance of a garden that Bobbie was working hard on. She has made it into a beautiful sanctuary of semi-wild flower, with a vegetable patch, and was intending on creating a gazebo and play area for the children. I enjoy gardening and know that I would be sad to see my efforts come to nothing should I be faced with such a short amount of time in which to see them come into fruition - maybe I can help to continue the work that she started.

I used to wonder how anyone could stand working in a hospice, with people that you knew were going to die. Now I think I understand that it is in fact a great privilege to know someone in their end days - there is much to learn from those who are nearing the end of their life.

Better news is that Minerva, who I blogged about recently, is in remission, having beaten breast cancer for the second time. I would like to say 'cured', but know that she is constantly faced with the threat of its return.

I spotted the 'Journal of Cancer Survivorship' as I was feed fishing for MedWorm. A wonderfully positive title that I liked - but I guess I was expecting to read about lots of triumphant stories inside, of patients being cured - but it is actually more about the difficulties that cancer survivors are faced with following their 'cures' - since there are still many difficulties they have to overcome as they rebuild their strength following their struggles - often with continuing side effects of drugs to deal with, disabilities following surgery or even a new identity to build. Minerva wrote a beautiful piece about her 'identity theft' in a letter to Mr Carcinoma.

Here's an interesting feed, for anyone wanting to learn a little from cancer, built from medical blogs with the 'cancer' tag.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Super Casino Rethink - Super News

Well it's not often politics surprise me, but they did when Gordon Brown announced a rethink to the Super Casino that was planned for Manchester. Will he have the courage to stick his neck out all the way against a project with so much money involved? Only time will tell. How anyone can seriously argue that the development of a super casino is a good way to regenerate a deprived area is beyond me.

In support of the rethink, and the report that has been commissioned to look at the social effects of gambling that is due in September, I have put together an 'Addiction Blogs' section on MedWorm.

Here you can see the directory of addiction blogs I have included so far - if anyone knows of any more please let me know - in particular I am keen to find blogs by anyone experiencing/recovering from addiction (of any kind).

Here you can see the Addiction Blogs River of News.

If you are looking for official data on addiction, have a look at the Addiction section of the MedWorm official sources directory and here is the Addiction River of News, with RSS feed, for those sources.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Alan Johnston - what a man!

A lot has been happening in the UK news recently, that again I couldn't let this wonderful moment go without comment. The release of Alan Johnston was welcome news - hearing him talk to the press shortly after his release a precious moment exemplifying the human spirit as it should be - if you didn't catch it, I recommend you watch a snapshot and learn from the wisdom he demonstrated throughout his experience.

The moment that brought a tear to my eye was when he spoke with humility about other people that in his opinion were facing an ordeal worse than his own:

There are people who have been told they have nine months to live and most of those people handle that with grace. I told myself that I was waiting to live my life again and it would be shameful if I couldn't do it with dignity.

Monday, 25 June 2007

A Tribute to Tony Blair

Well yesterday Tony finally slipped out of power and Gordon slipped in. Politics generally bores me, or infuriates me, so I wouldn't usually mention it here, but I guess I can't let such a day slip by without comment.

What did I think of Tony Blair? Well, I guess quite a 'nice' man, with good intentions, and I think mostly sincere, but I think he became increasingly arrogant due to misconceptions of his self-righteousness, foolish, and stupid to have believed the lies he was fed.

Whatever good he may done is completely overshadowed by the atrocity of the Iraq War. Reported civilian deaths as a result of the war are currently between 66,000 and 72,000. An estimate by American and Iraqi epidemiologists in October 2006 estimated that 655,000 deaths had resulted since the invasion in March 2003.

Tony Blair helped make this happen - with the best of intentions, of course! I remember suggesting before the war began that Tony should visualise his family lined up and being blown to pieces, one by one, with a few of them being left half alive, dismembered and with severe burns, before committing to the war, and that if he could accept that as a necessary consequence of war, for a higher good, then fair enough. I was accused of being a pacifist. Maybe I am?

Tony Blair refused to listen to the outrage by a large section of the British population - yes, debatable what percentage was in favour or not, depending on which newspaper you were reading - but we did see the largest British demonstration ever protesting against the war, with over 1 million people taking to the streets of London (and for each person on the street, there were many more who could not be there who were also outraged). He went to war in our name, with our money, and killed innocent children. This makes me so angry. He has blood on his hands. These images are for him:

Will ignorance be his defence on The Day of Judgement I ask myself?

Yesterday I was happy he was leaving his position of power. A monumental day, that I was too deflated to get excited about. Gordon Brown, will he do any better? Can't do much worse for sure. Would be hard to do that much damage if you tried. He seems like a decent guy, down to earth, yet with some creative ideas, gives me some hope. We'll see...

Monday, 21 May 2007

The Human Cancer Genome Project - a Fine Example of No Funding

I discovered Dr Kattelove's Cancer Blog via MedWorm.

Dr Kattelove gives some excellent explanations of developments in the area of cancer research that I find to be interesting, informative and easy for someone like me to understand - me being not a medical professional or a scientist, but someone who wants to know more about medicine than what I can find in the newspapers, as do I believe an ever increasing body of medically savvy consumers (what with Health 2.0 and all). He obviously has great insight, following 7 years as the medical editor of the American Cancer Society. And I would like to add that it is an inspiration to see someone with such experience using their retirement time to share their wealth of knowledge through blogging.

This post on The Cancer Genome Project jumped out at me as a fine example of how medical progress is being hindered by the lack of government funding. It is a great shame that I feel is worthy of publicity.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

5 Essential Search Engine Tips for the Lazy Doctor

Now you might think you know all the best sites on the web for your research, but if you can't be bothered to apply your just a tiny fraction of your brainpower into the few words you type into the search box, then all that knowledge really is in vain.

My disparaging tone comes from watching time after time really poor searches performed on MedWorm, by people who are obviously medical professionals, which return either sub-standard results, or often no results at all.

The fact is, Google has made everyone lazy - to our own detriment. Any mistakes in spelling are usually identified automatically and the amount of data returned is bound to return something relevant.

However, other medical search engines are not so forgiving - in the future they will probably do all the thinking for you, but at the moment they mostly don't, so here's a few really basic and really simple rules that, if applied, will help lazy doctors get much more for less. I'm not talking boolean searches (yet, but might do later) - just stating the blatant obvious - if for no-one else, then at least for my husband, who I know is a great doctor, very intelligent and technically savvy, but an extremely lousy, and I think lazzzzzy, searcher.

1. Spell your words correctly - if you don't get many records returned, double check your spellings.
2. Leave spaces between your words - no joke, I see this time and time again - here's the thing, if you don't use spaces, then the computer thinks the words that you've merged together are actually one. And if you can't see what you are typing clearly, then put your glasses on!
3. Include variations of words:
- singular and plural
- abbreviated and non-abbreviated versions
- both brand names and generic names of drugs
- both medical terminology and commonly used names of conditions
- both American English and International English spellings
4. Think about which words would be used in a medical abstract and use those.
5. Don't bother including words that are not essential to the text you are looking for - unless you are looking for a particular phrase in quotes, most of the time typing in big phrases will actually return a whole load of junk - with just a few relevant articles.

Now these tips are so easy - I know I have stated the obvious here, but like I said, if you can be bothered to apply just a fraction of your thinking power to the task in hand and remember these few basic points, I promise you are going to get a whole lot more for your money, in much less time.

And if you can get your act together with these tips, then maybe I'll tell you about Boolean searching next time.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Getting in Touch With Illness

Now I sometimes struggle trying to look after my two children and juggle my work developing MedWorm, but Minerva is a lady who has been struggling to look after her three daughters whilst battling cancer and the side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy - kind of puts things into perspective.

After briefly tasting the surface of lots of patient blogs as I was 'feed fishing' for MedWorm, I decided that if I was to really be effective in my campaign for increased government funding of medical research, I needed to get a better understanding of illness and patient suffering. And never before has it been so easy to get a step by step insight into the daily life of someone suffering from any illness or condition of your choosing.

I stumbled on Minerva's blog, A Woman of Many Parts, by chance, via a MedWorm blog search - I think I had decided to read a blog about cancer, since statistically speaking that is what is most likely to touch my life in some way before I die, and someone with children, since my life revolves around my children. Minerva started her blog before she was diagnosed with cancer, which is a bonus, since you get to know the person before and after that changing moment. She writes beautifully, and has a real talent for poetry. After reading just a few of her entries, I was hooked, and am now working my way through her archives, from the beginning of her blog in 2005, up to the current day. Her blog reads as good as any best seller - shame in a way that I began originally with her current entries - kind of like jumping to the end of the book - except of course this book doesn't have an end, it is continuously evolving, as is Minerva.

The initial reaction from my husband was that by reading patient blogs I would end up with 'Medical Student Syndrome', developing the same symptoms of each person that I read about (and yes I have to admit I did have a quick check that night for lumps), and then after a few days, when the reading persisted, he was concerned that by reading a blog about cancer I would get depressed. But here's the surprise - it's actually having the opposite effect on me.

I'm the kind of person that can't bear to watch a film if I know it doesn't have a happy ending - and any scene which involves emotion between mothers and children usually has me reaching for the remote controller, or else trying to hide the tears - doesn't matter how pathetic it is, I'm a complete emotional moron. Previously when I had seen blogs about cancer, I had thought 'how sad' and skimmed over them for fear that they might 'rub off' on me.

To anyone not having lived with cancer, it really is a scary word. But reading Minerva's blog has is some way taken me past this superficial fear. Not that what Minerva is experiencing anything less horrible than I had imagined, but somehow getting in touch with her ups and downs gives one an understanding that surpasses fear. In addition, my own life seems richer, my children that much more delightful, my husband so much more understandable - I knew that life was precious, but it's one thing knowing it, it's another thing feeling it, all the time. Thanks Minerva for opening up your book of life for us to read - you are giving more than you realise.

Now anyone not yet subscribing to some patient blogs, I highly recommend that you do so - your life is guaranteed to be enriched.

Yes suffering does have its place, and for sure Minerva has become a stronger woman in every way as a result - but enough is enough - now it's surely got to be time for her to get better - I pray that medical knowledge is sufficient to give you the treatment you require and lay that cancer to rest once and for all, so you can get back to being that super mum and super English teacher that is obviously very much loved and admired.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

This Blog Has Just Got Serious

A couple of days ago I got onto the topic of the lack of government funding in medical research.

It's amazing how blogging about something can breathe life into thoughts.

Yesterday I woke up in the morning with the realisation that I could help make a difference to this problem, hence this blog has just taken on a new direction and will for the moment concentrate on this issue.

I confess that I don't know very much yet, so this blog will initially follow my research on the subject.

Here's from where I am starting:

- First of all, I should state that I do not have a medical or scientific background, but I am married to a doctor and my father was a scientist, which has probably had some influence on me. Neither am I directly, or indirectly, currently effected by any medical condition that might have motivated me to campaign about this issue. However, statistics tell me that this issue is, unfortunately, likely to be a personal issue at some stage of my life.

- My general knowledge has picked up bits of information that tells me medical research is not a big priority for governments and is underfunded - that most developments in medicine are largely funded by pharmaceutical companies, who aim to be as profitable as possible, and that other research is funded mostly my charity.

- I know from my very recent research, which I blogged about last time, that America is decreasing its NIH budget for medical research, whilst it is spending approximately 2.5 times the amount on developing weapons.

Now I'll have a look at what Europe is doing in the way of funding medical research - will let you know what I find out shortly.

When I last wrote, I said 'most of us never really consider the importance of medical research, until we are directly effected by illness'. Since then, I realised that people really do think about health and health care. In the UK, I would even go so far as to say people are obsessed by health and the National Health Service. Health, education and crime are often the top 3 public concerns in the run up to any election. and health care is constantly in the news. But medical research is never in the news - not in the context of funding, not here in the UK - at least I dont remember it if it has been. Do people not care? I would suggest that it is simply something that most people just haven't really thought much about. And I think if they did think about it, if they realised that funding for health care does not include funding for medical research, and without medical research, real improvements in health care will be a long time coming, it would be something that a lot of people would care very much for.

Here's my tip for any wannabe president or prime minister: Make medical research a top priority. Promise to do everything you can to cure cancer (for example) and you'll win a shed load of votes - I'm sure more than you would by promising to put a man on the moon. And just think, if you do get to power, and make some serious investments in medical research, you'll be able to make yourselves some really cheap drugs, which will help solve your funding problems with you national health service (if you even have one).

Here's another idea: Get together with some other countries and fund the research together - you could invite some of your buddies from the Middle East and surrounding areas - maybe they would like to contribute some of their oil riches to such a worthwhile project - that way you could spend all your energies doing something constructive together, for a change.

Well, I like to think big - big problems need big solutions. At the end of the day, we are all human - everyone can be influenced. Politicians need power. If we all get serious about this, change will come.

If you have a view, please get in touch - maybe we can join forces...

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Death and Suffering Keeps Me Motivated

These last few weeks I got little closer to the number 1 motivating factor behind MedWorm. Illness. I've been spending my time collecting blogs to enter into MedWorm. Initially I was just going to focus on blogs from medical professionals - but after stumbling across several very moving patient blogs I realised that it was essential to add those too.

Reading personal accounts of how people are living with illnesses reminds you just how precious life is. If you haven't got any, why not add a few patient blogs to your reading list. Here's a few from people either living with or trying to fight against cancer:

I know that a lot of physicians will often try and detach themselves from the human side of their patients - I can't imagine how anyone could cope with so much suffering without doing this to a certain extent - but surely it is when a doctor, or nurse, or someone in medical research, allows themselves to get in touch with their patients' feelings, that really wonderful work is done. I have no doubt that it will be patients and medical professionals working together that will see the real advances in medical science and care in the future, and I think MedWorm can play its small part in this revolution.

One thing that really struck me when looking for blogs on particular illnesses is that many links actually led me to blogs from people that had since died - although I might add very much still alive via the words they left in their blogs. Account after account of heart wrenching diaries that you could follow through from first diagnosis, through their ups and downs on various paths of treatment, and always with family and friends that were directly effected by their torment. Of course the most upsetting stories are when children are involved - sometimes they are the ones that are ill, and sometimes they are the ones left without a parent.

Have you ever noticed how its the really nice people that get sick? Or maybe suffering is what makes people really nice? But what a waste! When someone is taken away from their loved ones when they have so much more to give. And why oh why is anyone still suffering with cancer in this day and age?

Here's some facts that infuriate me:
- Over $400 billion was spent on the American military last year:
- The AAAS predicts that the Department of Defense could have a budget exceeding $600 billion in 2008
- Only about $28 billion was spent on medical research (NIH) in 2006, of which less than $5 billion was spent on cancer research.
- The Department of Defence research and development budget is set to increase to a record $79 billion in 2008, which includes more than a 5% increase in the development of weapons (an all time high of over $68 billion) and also includes a slash in the DOD spending on general science and technology (basic research, applied research, medical research, and technology development) by more than 20 percent down to less than $11 billion, just over 2% of their total R&D budget
-Whilst budgets for R&D in defense are rising, the budget for R&D in health is falling - down 1% from 2007 to 2008, set at less than $28.8 billion.
- To summarise, America spends more than one and a half times more developing weapons than it does on medical research.

OK, so I'm not American, but if I was, I would definitely want my taxes spent on medical research much more than I would weaponry research. Lets just look at this selfishly for a moment - there's a much greater chance that someone in my family will develop cancer, in fact of developing cancer myself, than being attacked by any terrorist in any way. American statistics for 2001 to 2003 say I have a 1 in 3 chance of developing some kind of invasive cancer before I die - if I was male this would rise to a 1 in 2 chance

Sad fact is, most of us never really consider the importance of medical research, until we are directly effected by illness - and then we might be so exhausted from our suffering, that we don't have much energy left for campaigning - or we might die and fall silent altogether.

I suggest everyone who is not yet effected by illness start reading some blogs from people who are living with illness on a daily basis to get in touch with reality. After spending just one day reading I was touched - I shared a few of the stories with my husband, who is a doctor. He looked at me with his medical insight and said "You have no idea - you just don't know what is going on - what people are facing every day..."

This is all the motivation I need to persevere in making MedWorm the best it can be. If I can help just a few of these people get better information, either for themselves, or to treat a patient, then it has got to be worthwhile. When I look at my precious 2 year old son and delightful daughter, I can't imagine how I would handle any serious illness touching them - I go to pieces when he my baby has a common cold - please God protect them - it's more than my life is worth. MedWorm for me is like health insurance - I work hard on it now, and Heaven forbid I should ever need some good medical research, at least I won't have a sudden panic trying to get my hands on the information I need.

I was going to blog about all the projects I have worked on previously - things I have started with great enthusiasm, but for which the taste has gone stale after a while as I ask myself what is the purpose of the project. All seems a little trivial after reading blogs that really matter.

So just one tip for you, to get me back on the topic of success - if you want to really succeed in life, find a higher purpose. Something that will motivate you to keep working hard after the initial excitement has passed. Something good, that will satisfy your soul.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Going the Extra Mile

I feel like I must spend 99% of my time trying to finish my jobs, go that little bit faster, work a little more efficiently, in order to get that extra little bit of time each day to do what I really love (developing the MedWorm site). My plans for the site are way ahead of where it is now and it kills me - these ideas burn away at me each day. If I see another site even touching on the direction that I want MedWorm to take, I am filled with jealousy.

Left to my own devices, I am sure I would lock myself in a room 24 hours a day and do nothing more than work on this. But how many of us are really in such a situation to indulge ourselves 100% in our interests? We all have commitments and responsibilities of one type or another.

But if Anita Roddick (The Body Shop) could lay the foundations for her empire with 2 small children, then so can I! And if Rachel Clacher can run Moneypenny in between giving birth to 3 daughters, then I know for sure that MedWorm success is attainable.

How did they manage? How do they succeed? Surely by having the determination, enthusiasm and stamina to go that extra mile.

I enjoyed watching a documentary on a day in the life of Richard Branson - the reporter, Adrian Chiles, was amazed at how early he had to meet Richard for breakfast, since he started his work at 5am - and don't think he goes to bed early either - Richard was still at it at midnight.

Success doesn't happen overnight, although it may seem that way. Successful people are those that go the extra mile, time after time. Putting in that extra hour of work, when everyone else is asleep, is what will get me to where I want to be - pushing myself every time to do just that little bit more is what will give me an edge.

If you are passionate about something, don't despair when faced with life's responsibilities and chores that will forever try to tie us down - hold on to that energy and use it for an extra burst of life each day to push forward with your dreams - if you do that little bit extra, day after day, you too will rise above mediocrity and find yourself in the hall of success.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

A Life Changing Event

Last week my life changed - I got something I have been waiting years for - a dishwasher.

Now you might think I am exaggerating when I say that this was a life changing event - or maybe you think my life is full of trivial events for this to be categorised as life changing. Well, getting married and the birth of my children were life changing events, and yes there is no comparison in importance between my family and my dishwasher - but in terms of quality of life, getting a dishwasher is definitely up there in the top 10.

I was, I think, spending an average of one hour a day washing dishes - but it's not just extra time I gain with a dishwasher - it's peace. Eating my dinner is now so much more relaxing knowing that I don't have to wash a pile of dishes at the end of it - which improves my digestion, which improves my health. And the kitchen is now so much tidier without a pile of dishes either waiting to be washed next to the sink, or in the sink, or drying on the draining board. I feel more organised - making the dinner is more enjoyable - and all the dishes are so much cleaner - not that I was a bad dishwasher, but I can't compete with a machine.

As we get older and we can gradually afford the luxuries of life, let us not forget what it was like to struggle. I remember our first family car - it was actually given to us so that the owner wouldn't have to pay to scrap it. It was a white Fiat Panda with holes in the door because of the rust - which we taped up with parcel tape! There was a hole in the water pipe which resulted in the hot air blower not working after 15 minutes, once all the water had drained (at least I think that was what the problem was). I remember driving it on what should have been a 4 hour journey to visit my family at Christmas - it took us 8.5 hours. We were beeped in the slow lane of the motorway because we were driving too slow. Driving up hills we would have to stop several times. On the return trip it was minus 4 degrees outside, and with the heater broken and the holes in the doors getting larger, we ended up with hypothermia. We considered not going home at all but driving straight to casualty - it took us hours to defrost - no joke - we spent the night huddled up in duvets, drinking lots of hot drinks to stop the shivering. When we got our next car, a brand new Daewoo Matiz - we felt elated. We really enjoyed driving up North the next Christmas, beeping at all the slow cars on the motorway! But now we have two cars and my husband drives a much larger car - he wonders how he ever managed to drive the Matiz and jokes at when he took his driving test in it - with two large men in the car, he was loosing points for going too slow, even though he had his foot to the floor.

Gradually life's luxuries creep in, and bit by bit we start to forget what it's like to struggle. I try to keep those images of more difficult times big in my memory - the energy I can draw from them is invaluable. I need to remember that boredom, soggy sleeves, miserable rainy outlook, wondering if my life of drudgery would ever end. Like I need to remember that summer job cycling to work in the early hours of the morning in the rain, to pack vegetables all day long, with painful blisters up my arms due to a reaction from the pesticides, and the time I was struggling to buy nappies and baby food, and the time a family member was having life-saving surgery, and the time I had debt hanging over my head for the first time in my life, and that humiliating interview, and the time I failed - really hard times, that one would sooner forget - but it is a wiser man that chooses to remember these times and to draw deeply from their experiences. Remember that feeling when you are really ill, and would do anything just to feel no pain, to be in good health once again? What a shame that when the pain subsides and the good health returns, we so easily forget how wonderful it is.

Just a little word of advice for any of you out there wondering if you really need a dishwasher (or whether your wife does) - if you can afford one, stop punishing yourself/wife and go buy one - squeeze it in to your kitchen somewhere, even if it means loosing valuable cupboard space - the benefits are huge - don't believe these people who say they don't make a difference - if you are the sole dishwasher in your house, and spend time cooking proper meals (not living off cardboard trays that you shove into the microwave) a dishwasher really does make a difference. The time to load and clear a dishwasher is minimal compared to the time spent washing, so what are you waiting for?

Now finding a reliable plumber to install the dishwasher....that's another story!

Friday, 16 February 2007


I've found myself thinking a lot about the importance of strategy recently. With limited time, a good strategy is an important ingredient to success.

I believe I learnt about strategy as a child, when playing 'Connect 4'. I became champion of champions and particularly enjoyed winning a round of 3 against a young man you was truly determined not to let a child less than 1/3rd his age beat him at what he thought would be a piece of cake - my reward, a well earned bottle of Coca Cola!

My strength lay in my freedom to think in detail about the moves, without the hindrance of more pressing issues that play on one's mind in adulthood. I had the patience to consider carefully what would happen if I was to: place my piece there, then he would go there, and I would go there and he would go there - and so on - and no that wasn't a good idea, since he would get that row of 4 at the end of the game - so let's try a different route - my poor opponents would be bored silly, but you could rest assured that I would always win in the end.

I don't have that much patience now - even I would get bored. I have so many ideas now that I am often tempted to just get a move on and throw myself into my code and chuck out new functionality as quickly as possible - but in reality I would probably only tie myself in knots should I follow such impulses. Fortunately I have dishes to wash and clothes to dry which help me to slow down a notch and consider carefully my strategy.

There's no point spending time developing great functionality that attracts thousands to my site if I do not first make sure the performance of my website is optimal - and there's no point spending time on a big marketing campaign until I have got a few steps ahead on the functionality - my half baked ideas would simply be copied and I would be left far behind. Everything has its place, down to the tiny details when considering the better way to write a line of code. Sure I get things messed up a little along the way - but keeping a big STRATEGY reminder at the front of my mind - which I can picture just floating above my desk - I believe gives me an edge that is essential if I am to compete with the big guys.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Always Time to Stare

Following on from my previous post about the lack of time, let me remind myself of this beautiful poem, which really needs no commentary:


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

By Wm. Henry Davies.

Here's a photo I took of one of my favourite places, St Ives, Cornwall.

What I will say is, that if you read the above poem and just think to yourself "that's that really twee poem that I learnt at school", then maybe you are missing life altogether and perhaps you should stop and realise that your life is just passing you by - it's not something that is going to happen some day in the future, it's something that you should be experiencing right now.

This poem often resurfaces in my mind when I am taking a moment to appreciate something beautiful. In this chaotic world we live in, I have learnt that even driving to the supermarket can be an exhilarating experience when I remember to concentrate on the beautiful things around me. To live life feeling alive, that has to be success.

Monday, 5 February 2007

Little Time

I hate myself for saying that I haven't got enough time. I always recall Anthony Robbins speaking about time, stating the obvious fact that we all have exactly the same amount of time - it is actually the one thing that remains constant.

But we do all have different levels of responsibility.

My biggest struggle in my quest for success is not deciding how best to design my websites, or working through pages of tricky coding, or generating ideas for new functionality. And it's not keeping my paperwork and book-keeping up to date (although I have a strong dislike of these tasks). I was always a nervous flyer and hesitant to give speeches, but when working on an international project I would bite the bullet and overcome my anxieties. All these things were, and are, easy, easy, easy, in comparison to the struggle that I meet with each day.

The largest mountain I have to climb is the constant juggle of motherhood and 'homemaker' (or 'housewife', as it is still politically incorrectly referred to in the UK) with my work.

My family is the most important thing to me - by far - but my work is tremendously important too. These two aspects of my life do not sit comfortably next to each other. They sit at opposite ends of the table, staring at each other in confrontation, both fighting for more space. This fight started eleven years ago when my daughter was born, and intensified two years ago at the arrival of my son. The fight is often inside my head, where I am constantly looking for justifications to my actions and for better solutions to my organised chaos. I have become proficient in the art of multi-tasking, but am resigning myself to the conclusion that there is no real solution, other than to 'make do'.

Many people have big opinions on how mothers should be living their lives. 'If you aren't prepared to look after your children, then don't have them,' is a common one. Well, I do look after my children. My son is actually with me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and has been so pretty much constantly since he was born. In addition, he has only slept 2 nights through since his birth, and if I consider the uncomfortable pregnancy, that makes nearly 3 years that I haven't had a good night's sleep. Since there are so many distractions in the day, I do a lot of my work at night, which means it is an early night if I get to bed before 1am in the morning. On average, I'm getting 5 hours sleep each night. Friends ask me why I haven't got bags under my eyes - well, I can see a few wrinkles actually. But the truth is, I am so excited about my work right now, I don't want to go to bed, and often jump out of bed in the morning to get a little extra done before the day begins.

Being a mother with a career is tricky, but it does have some advantages. In fact, I wouldn't be where I was at all now if it wasn't for my children. It was the birth of my daughter that made me reassess my values, completely change my direction in life and retrain for a career in IT. Then it was my baby son that gave me the freedom to remain at home and work for myself - had he not been around, the pressure to go and get 'a proper job' would probably have won in the end. And with two angels to cuddle whenever I am feeling down, how could I possibly complain?

I just have to be ultra efficient. If I can complete everything in half the amount of time, then I can do twice as much - simple!

Sunday, 4 February 2007

What is Success?

Success is fulfilling your potential, achieving your intended purpose.

Since my blog is about success, I thought it appropriate to begin with my definition of success. I'm not claiming to be original in this idea, but it is the conclusion I reached after several years of pondering.

I chose to blog about success since it is a subject to which I think I have something to contribute. Am I successful? Well, I think I am on the right track - so in that respect each day is a success. But I don't think I have fulfilled my intended purpose just yet.

I think everyone has an intended purpose, but not many people fulfil theirs - many people fail at life. Some people are intended to be great politicians, to bring about peace and stability in the world, but never achieve anything more than lies and deceit. Other people are intended to be famous inventors that may change all our lives for the better, but end up rich and with blood on their hands developing the latest weapons. Some people are meant to be wonderful parents, but spend their lives neglecting their children. Some people are intended to be nice, but instead they are grumpy most of the time.

Everyone has a different stick against which their level of success will be measured - and I don't know what anyone else's looks like, but I have an idea about mine. I was born into a relatively stable family, into one of the world's richer countries. I have been given a free education, health care and good nutrition. I have good health and I think a high level of intelligence. I am not starving, persecuted or under attack. I am not a minority and I have freedom of speech. I have a wonderful husband and two adorable children. Now I find myself living in Devon, surely one of the most beautiful areas of the UK. I do not have to worry about natural disasters. You know I have blessings too numerous to count. This is a concern to me. I have been given so many advantages - so I must now achieve something wonderful if I am really to succeed.

Hmmm... I thought this blog would be just a little bit of background information about who I am for those who care - seems I have more to talk about than I realised. Time is precious though, so I must go and do something constructive right now, will write more tomorrow....