Tag Archives: Health

What’s Up With My Data, Doc?

I can’t find the original article on the IHT website, but there’s a great piece in today’s edition on how pharmaceutical companies push their drugs by funding — I would say bribing — doctors. It’s written by Daniel Carlat, who writes a blog and publishes the Carlat Psychiatry Report.

The most interesting part of the piece is on something called prescription data-mining, where data from pharmacists on prescriptions — what patients are given what medicines — are linked to the doctors prescribing said medicines. This allows pharmaceutical companies to target doctors and get them to push their drugs by paying them to make presentations to other doctors.

Carlat himself made $30,000 in a year doing this before he saw the light. He is now a major critic of the practice, and challenges in a recent blog post the absurd industry defense of the practice of prescription data-mining that it’s all about transparency:

Today, however (on a tip from PharmaGossip), I read the most absurd argument in its defense yet, reported in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. The reporter, Karl Stark, quoted Jody Fisher, Verispan’s vice president of product management, as saying: “Doctors are trying to create a special right of privacy. I can certainly appreciate where they’re coming from. But the way the world is going is toward increased transparency of information.”

“Transparency of information”! What a wonderful Web 2.0 buzz phrase!

Of course, I’m interested because you can see in it the power of data-mining. The original pharmacist data doesn’t include the doctors’ names, only their Drug Enforcement Agency registration numbers. It’s the American Medical Association that effectively reveals the doctors’ names to Big Pharma by licensing its file of U.S. physicians, allowing data-mining companies like IMS Health and Verispan to match the numbers with the names, Carlat writes in today’s IHT piece. The AMA makes millions of dollars in this process, by the way.

Are similar things being done with our Internet-based data? Is the anonymous becoming less anonymous? If it’s not being done now, assume it will be in the future. It’s a great example of how data aren’t always valuable until they’re linked to other data, and then they’re extremely valuable.

The Carlat Psychiatry Blog: September 2007

A Show of Unwashed Hands

Igene

Ever been grossed out, a la Seinfeld, by someone who visits the bathroom but doesn’t seem to know what washbasins are for? You need the iGene

i-Gene [sic] is designed for washrooms or areas where hand hygiene is critical. It detects movement and after a given period of time (pre-delay setting) will play the following real voice message. “Please wash your hands before leaving this area.”

Usually, I’m not for any kind of nanny-state type stuff, but it does amaze me how few people (read: men) wash their hands after a spell in the bathroom. Now I’m up for not just installing an iGene in every bathroom but of having anti-bacterial handgel guns on either side of the door to fire at miscreants as they try to sneak out without performing any manual cleansing.

Of course, the solution is to fit decent hand dryers so that people a) don’t have to calculate the value of hygiene against the possibility of catching a cold from damp hands and b) can have fun drying their hands in a warm and powerful jet.

The other move would be to either install automatic doors so you don’t have to put your clean hands on a doorknob used by all the non-handwashing Poppys or to at least put a bin outside the bathroom so clean-minded folk have somewhere to discard the paper towel they have to use to open the door to avoid getting all bacterial again.

Directory of RSI Software

This is the first in a number of posts about RSI, or Repetitive Strain Injury, the subject of this week’s column, out tomorrow. Here is a collection of software designed to ease RSI. RSI software tries to help in a number of ways:

  • working out how long you’ve been at the keyboard and reminds you to take breaks;
  • suggesting exercises for you to perform while you’re taking those breaks;
  • records macros (shortcuts) to specific tasks you do a lot so you don’t have to use the keyboard as much (especially keystroke combinations);
  • reduces mouse usage by allowing you to control the mouse from the keyboard (including dragging)
  • reducing mouse clicks by automating the process (move the cursor over something you want to click on and hold it there, and the software figures out you want to click and does it for you)

Here are some programs I found. I’m sure there are more. Let me know!

RSI Shield provides breaks, records macros and controls the mouse via hovering or via the keyboard. For Windows only. About $40 from RSI-Shield.

RSI Guard includes a break timer that suggests breaks at appropriate times, mouse automatic-clicking option and shows animations of exercises. Windows only. £81 from Back in Action, or $40 for the Standard and $65 for the Stretch Edition from RSI Guard.

Workrave frequently alerts you to take micro-pauses, rest breaks and restricts you to your daily limit. For GNU/Linux and Windows (can be run on a Mac using Fink). Free from Workrave.

WorkPace Personal charts your activity, reminds you to take breaks and guides you through exercises. For Windows and Mac. $50 from Wellnomics.

AntiRSI forces you to take regular breaks, yet without getting in the way. It also detects natural breaks so it won’t force too many breaks on you. For Macs, free (donations welcome) from TECH.inhelsinki.nl.

[resting]

Xwrits reminds you to take wrist breaks, with a rather cute but graphic graphic of a wrist which pops up an X window when you should rest. For Unix only. Free from Eddie Kohler’s Little Cambridgeport Design Factory.

OosTime Break Software for reminding yourself to take rest breaks from your computer. For Windows only, from the University of Calgary. Another break reminder: Stress Buster for Windows, £10, from ThreadBuilder. Another break reminder for Windows, also called, er, Break Reminder for $60 a year (that can’t be right) from Cheqsoft.

Stretch Break reminds you to stretch, then shows you how with Yoga-based stretches and relaxing background music. For Windows only, $45 from Paratec.

ergonomix monitors keyboard and mouse activity and helps structure computer use. For Windows only, $50 from publicspace.net.  (A Mac version called MacBreakZ is also available for $20.)

ActiveClick automatically clicks, drags content and makes you stretch. For Windows only, $19 from ActiveClick.

No-RSI monitors keyboard and mouse activity and suggests you to take a break regularly. For Windows only, $15 from BlueChillies.

Also check out the Typing Injury FAQ for some more RSI software. A more recent collection can be found in a piece by Laurie Bouck at The Pacemaker. A good piece, too, by Jono Bacon at ONLamp.com.

There are also mice that try to help counter RSI. The Hoverstop, for example, “detects if your hand is on the mouse. It then monitors if you are actually using it (clicking, scrolling). If you are not using it for more than 10 seconds, it will vibrate softly to remind you to take your hand away and relax.” About $90 from Hoverstop.

My favorite? Workrave, though I must confess I often ignore the breaks. More fool me.

Directory of RSI Software

This is the first in a number of posts about RSI, or Repetitive Strain Injury, the subject of this week’s column, out tomorrow. Here is a collection of software designed to ease RSI. RSI software tries to help in a number of ways:

  • working out how long you’ve been at the keyboard and reminds you to take breaks;
  • suggesting exercises for you to perform while you’re taking those breaks;
  • records macros (shortcuts) to specific tasks you do a lot so you don’t have to use the keyboard as much (especially keystroke combinations);
  • reduces mouse usage by allowing you to control the mouse from the keyboard (including dragging)
  • reducing mouse clicks by automating the process (move the cursor over something you want to click on and hold it there, and the software figures out you want to click and does it for you)

Here are some programs I found. I’m sure there are more. Let me know!

RSI Shield provides breaks, records macros and controls the mouse via hovering or via the keyboard. For Windows only. About $40 from RSI-Shield.

RSI Guard includes a break timer that suggests breaks at appropriate times, mouse automatic-clicking option and shows animations of exercises. Windows only. £81 from Back in Action, or $40 for the Standard and $65 for the Stretch Edition from RSI Guard.

Workrave frequently alerts you to take micro-pauses, rest breaks and restricts you to your daily limit. For GNU/Linux and Windows (can be run on a Mac using Fink). Free from Workrave.

WorkPace Personal charts your activity, reminds you to take breaks and guides you through exercises. For Windows and Mac. $50 from Wellnomics.

AntiRSI forces you to take regular breaks, yet without getting in the way. It also detects natural breaks so it won’t force too many breaks on you. For Macs, free (donations welcome) from TECH.inhelsinki.nl.

[resting]

Xwrits reminds you to take wrist breaks, with a rather cute but graphic graphic of a wrist which pops up an X window when you should rest. For Unix only. Free from Eddie Kohler’s Little Cambridgeport Design Factory.

OosTime Break Software for reminding yourself to take rest breaks from your computer. For Windows only, from the University of Calgary. Another break reminder: Stress Buster for Windows, £10, from ThreadBuilder. Another break reminder for Windows, also called, er, Break Reminder for $60 a year (that can’t be right) from Cheqsoft.

Stretch Break reminds you to stretch, then shows you how with Yoga-based stretches and relaxing background music. For Windows only, $45 from Paratec.

ergonomix monitors keyboard and mouse activity and helps structure computer use. For Windows only, $50 from publicspace.net.  (A Mac version called MacBreakZ is also available for $20.)

ActiveClick automatically clicks, drags content and makes you stretch. For Windows only, $19 from ActiveClick.

No-RSI monitors keyboard and mouse activity and suggests you to take a break regularly. For Windows only, $15 from BlueChillies.

Also check out the Typing Injury FAQ for some more RSI software. A more recent collection can be found in a piece by Laurie Bouck at The Pacemaker. A good piece, too, by Jono Bacon at ONLamp.com.

There are also mice that try to help counter RSI. The Hoverstop, for example, “detects if your hand is on the mouse. It then monitors if you are actually using it (clicking, scrolling). If you are not using it for more than 10 seconds, it will vibrate softly to remind you to take your hand away and relax.” About $90 from Hoverstop.

My favorite? Workrave, though I must confess I often ignore the breaks. More fool me.

The Hot Air War

Are the days of the wet hand over? A few months ago I wrote in the WSJ about the Mitsubishi Jet Towel (subscription only; I did a version of the piece for the BBC World Service which you can download as a podcast here), which has been drying hands effectively around Asia for some time, now arriving on U.S. shores:

I spotted it when I was gorging in a food court — a plastic-cased, cream-colored, wall-mounted device that looked like an attractive waste-disposal unit or, possibly, a mailbox. The only clue that it was actually a hand dryer was its proximity to the wash basins. Using it was like a glimpse of hand-drying heaven. Instead of sticking your hands below a single air jet, you put them inside a sort of trough inside the unit, between two jets that start blowing automatically onto both sides of your hands.

Instead of searing blasts of hot air that shrivel the skin and give your hands a weird burning sensation, the Jet Towel envelops them in a strong but muted cushion of air, circulating within the trough. Instead of rubbing your hands together vigorously in the vain hope of dislodging the damp, you just move the hands up and down slowly. Instead of the water dripping off your hands onto the floor, it falls to the bottom of the trough and down a pipe into the base of the unit. Instead of the usual half-minute or so of frantic hand-rubbing, followed by some pant-wiping, pull out your hands after a few seconds and they’re dry. Really.

Now it looks like it has a rival, in the form of the Dyson Airblade. Right now I’m not quite sure what the difference is between the two devices — they both look remarkably similar. I’m still waiting for word from Dyson’s PR people. But anything that gets our hands dryer quicker and more hygienically can only be good news. Coverage at engadget and The Guardian.

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Keeping Out The Worms

Can we really keep out worms?

An interesting piece from Information Security Magazine takes a look at a range of “antiworm” products which promise to contain worms by weeding out bad traffic. Among them: Mirage Networks, ForeScout, Check Point Software Technologies, Silicon Defense and IBM.

They use different approaches, from looking for unfulfilled Address Resolution Protocol requests, to anomaly detection, while others automatically isolate compromised hosts, the article says. Others redirect worm traffic to a quarantined area to buy time to isolate the worm and keep systems available. Others try to limit the spread of a virush by ‘throttling it’, i.e. limit the number of Internet connections an infected computer can have.

Interesting article, but in the end we don’t know exactly what the next worm will do, so aren’t we back at square one, of always being wise after the event, like all anti-virus software? Or am I missing something?