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...