Wireless Weighing to Weighing in Wirelessly: Health Care Bits and Bytes Today
Health care and the Internet are on a headlong rush to each other at 4G speed. The big question is whether the point of impact will be a gentle caress or a "blunt impact trauma" (the medical term for the situation where your face hits the tarmac at a couple of hundred miles an hour...but I digress...).
And it's not just a question of how patients and health care providers incorporate modern technology into the deliver of health care; the universe of health care IT is so much wider than that. It incorporates not only direct service, but also the growing field of how policy decisions, public discussion, and decisions by health care organizations are made and analyzed in a social media world.
Just pick up a newspaper or go online any day of the week, and you'll get a quick snapshot of the ubiquitousness and complexity of the burgeoning intersection between health and technology.
Take today for instance...
The issue that shot to the headlines this afternoon was the announcement by the Susan Komen Foundation that it has chosen to defund all grants to Planned Parenthood. Ostensibly, the decision stems from a Komen Foundation rule which does not allow it to fund any grantee which is under congressional investigation. Planned Parenthood is currently the subject of an inquiry launched by Rep. Cliff Stearns R-Fla, who has made allegations that Planned Parenthood has improperly spent public money on abortion services. Planned Parenthood leadership asserts that Stearns, who is an avowed anti-abortion advocate, has launched the investigation as a punitive measure. Planned Parenthood points out that the Komen grants which it received, totally nearly $700,000 last year, went exclusively to breast cancer screenings and other breast-health related work.
Regardless of where one falls on the abortion issue, one of the most striking elements of today's Komen announcement is how quickly this has become a social media hot button. Facebook and Twitter have exploded with comments and commentary from both supporters and detractors of the Komen decision. Planned Parenthood supporters immediately launched a petition on Act.ly to demand that the Komen Foundation reverse its decision, and hundreds of thousands of tweets went out on the issue within minutes of the announcement. The Komen decision is on the front page of the Planned Parenthood website, and in response to the media frenzy, Texas philanthropist Lee Fikes and his wife Amy have already pledged $250,000 to make up for the loss of Komen funding. (And in case you care about how I personally come out on this issue, see my tweets @TimothyWu1...but I digress again...)
Another fascinating online advocacy issue in the news right now concerns the medical bills incurred by the tragic death of Canadian skiier Sarah Burke, who died of a head injury suffered while performing on the half pipe at Park City in Salt Lake City, Utah. Because she was not competing in an officially sanctioned tournament, Burke's medical bills were not covered by any of the professional ski association entities. Burke was in the hospital for nine days before succumbing to her injuries, and the estimates for her hospital costs have ranged from $200,000 to $500,000.
Burke's death, and her uncovered medical expenses, have been hot online discussion topics regarding the difference between the Canadian system of universal health care coverage vs. the US system of private payer insurance. As one commentator put it, the US has told Burke's family, "We're so sorry for your loss. Here's your bill." Friends of Burke established a GiveForward donation site to help defray Burke's medical bills, and the site has raised more thatn $300,000 already. The sad circumstances of Burke's death, and the irony of her accident happening in the US vs. a few hundred miles north in Canada, have re-opened an online health care policy debate that had started to lose steam a few months ago.
On a lighter note, today also marked milestones for some new consumer health IT products that mark years of careful research and thoughtful study. HopeLab today continued its launch of Zamzee, the prototype device which encourages young people to engage in more healthy, active pursuits through a unique online interactive platform. Zamzee measures the intensity and output of young peoples' activities, and then enables them to input these measures into a website which offers rewards and incentives. Fred Dillon, HopeLab's director of product development, unveiled Zamzee to hundreds of school age youth at ChicagoQuest today.
And for the adoring parent who wants to measure (literally) their child's every new ounce and inch of growth and weight, Withings has announced that its wifi enabled baby scale, which was displayed at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, will go on sale next month for $179. The scale weighs and measures infants and toddlers, and then automatically sends the information to all programmed recipients with PC or PDA access. What I love about the device is that it had to be configured so that people wouldn't be tempted to weigh packages or other non-human items on it. Although I do wonder about how engadget described the device: "perfect for tallying the weight of sweet, vulnerable, crying humans." Sounds like I should be putting most of my first dates on that scale...