Author: Carolyn Graybeal

Exploring a Culture of Health: How Can We Visualize Health Data for Better Communication?

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From Data to Story: Visualizing Health Data for Better Communication (Image Source: Modified from VizHealth.org / CC BY)

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

There is a seemingly endless stream of health data. Visit the doctor and you get a report listing various bits of data such as your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Listen to the news and you hear statistics on risk factors, medication side effects or mortality rates. All potentially useful information, but without background or context, the numbers are likely confusing, meaningless and eventually forgotten. “For health data to be meaningful, the person needs to see themselves in that data. To make this happen, we need to understand how to present data so that it conveys a complete message, not just a number,” says Andrea Ducas, program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).


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Exploring a Culture of Health: Detecting Signals of Wellbeing

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

Imagine if everyday technology could transform how we manage our health and wellbeing? What if your phone could alert your doctor to a change in your behavior? Or what if grandma’s stove could tell you she is already up and about in the morning? It sounds complicated but as it turns out, it might simply be a matter of tapping into the data generated from everyday devices. Two independent groups in California are doing just this.

Using Mobile Technology to Help Youths with Mental Illness

At UC Davis behavioral scientists with the Early Diagnosis and Preventive Treatment (EDAPT) Clinic are embarking on a yearlong project to study whether mobile technology can improve treatment for young people who are in the early stages of psychotic illness. The EDAPT group has teamed up with Ginger.io a health data start-up to assess “users’ social, physical and mental health status”[1]. Through an app, users can actively input their daily symptoms, medication adherence, mood, and how they are coping, while information on their movements and daily social contacts, such as the number of incoming telephone calls and text messages, is gathered in the background. All of this data provides a patient and his or her clinical team with a finer resolution of that patient’s health profile.


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Exploring a Culture of Health: Building Resilience to Undo the Effects of Childhood Trauma

Working with children to undo the effects of childhood trauma

Working with children to undo the effects of childhood trauma

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.

Early life experiences lay the foundation for mental development as well as general health and well-being. Having a loving family environment, exposure to healthy habits such as nutritious eating or exercise and socioeconomic stability are good indicators for healthy psychological and physiological development. Not surprising news. The reality, however, is that not all children grow up in an environment that checks all of these boxes. What happens to kids who face difficulties like poverty or neglect early in life?

Unfortunately it is not good. Neurobiological and social research show that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) increase the risk of developing mental and physical health issues. ACEs include being abused as a child or exposed to a parent’s   violence or drug abuse, or loss of a parent through divorce, mental illness or incarceration. These “stressful environments impact children’s emotional development, mental health, cognition and their ability to learn,” states Dr. Darcy Lowell of Child First, a Connecticut-based home-visit program that works with at risk children between the prenatal period and the age of five.

“Across the general population, one in four children will experience a significantly a traumatic incident before they are four. Fifty percent of those children will experience that three or four times,” explains Janine Hron C.E.O. of the Crittenton Children’s Center in Kansas City, Missouri, home to the trauma intervention program Head Start-Trauma Smart.

The statistics are staggering. So what can be done?

“When children are exposed to trauma, it stops their brain from progressing along the normal track,” says Hron. “The good news is that science has informed us that the brain is adaptable and is capable of healing.” The challenge is determining how to nurture this healing process. Using different models, Child First and Head Start-Trauma Smart, both Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported programs, are doing just that.


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Exploring a Culture of Health: Disrupting the Doctor’s Office with Flip the Clinic

Flip the Clinic, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Program

Flip the Clinic, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Program

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.  Posts in this series will also appear on the Discover Magazine Citizen Science Salon Blog and the SciStarter blog

Healthcare is an imperfect system. Your visit to the physician occurs only once in a while and when it does happen, these visits are often short, impersonal, and a drain on both your time and monetary resources (1). On average, a primary care doctor has more than 2,300 patients and each patient visit lasts for about 15 minutes (1). If you take a step back, you will realize that’s an extremely short time for both you and your physician to discover, process and understand an awful lot of information about your health. Not surprisingly, most of us have experienced an unsatisfactory interaction at the clinic. But, this interaction is at the heart of healthcare and ought to mean a whole lot more, reckons Thomas Goetz who helped start the  Flip the Clinic, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) project that seeks to rethink the physicians’ visit.

Goetz, co-founder of the health technology company Iodine and at the time an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, came up with the  idea for Flip the Clinic (FTC), while listening to  a talk at RWJF by Sal Khan of Khan Academy. In early 2013, Khan spoke at RWJF about how he “flipped the classroom” by making lectures accessible online so students could learn at their own pace and do their homework in class instead, making full use of the teacher’s presence. Khan suggested that for the doctor’s office might be ripe for such that kind of flipping too.  Goetz agreed and almost immediately started the FTC project.

“Pragmatically, the doctor’s visit is a powerful part of modern medicine. The problem is that we are not optimizing this resource; we have not reconsidered and re-evaluated how we might exploit the visit to its full advantage,” says Goetz in a blog post describing the impetus for Flip the Clinic. Flip the Clinic functions as a  hub for addressing challenges, exchanging ideas, and filtering those healthcare practices that work and those that do not. Through its website, everyone from patients to medical experts and healthcare providers can submit ideas or pose ‘flips’ relating to any aspect of the medical encounter. The community is encouraged to engage in a discussion around these potential flips.

An example of a flip on the FTC website (left) and posting and participating in Community Flips (right)

An example of a flip on the FTC website (left) and posting and participating in Community Flips (right)

Flips such as “How do I show patients that I’m invested in their health?”, “How can I encourage patients to learn more about their conditions?” and “How do you redesign the clinic?” have generated interesting conversations with comments from patients, physicians, nurses and researchers. Like me, you will probably find yourself spending time on the site flipping through many thought-provoking questions and the exchange of ideas in the comments. And, perhaps, wondering how the emerging field of citizen science could help reinvent how patients and providers interact.

One way citizen scientists could help ‘flip’ the clinic is by contributing to and using crowd sourced data from Flu Near You (2), a citizen science project. With this data, physicians and patients could alert themselves of an emerging infectious outbreak and prepare accordingly. Have other ideas? Share them. At the heart of the Flip the Clinic initiative is youWhether you are a patient, a physician, a nurse, a hospital administrator or anybody involved in healthcare, your voice matters. Your ideas and your experiences are what will help ‘flip’ the clinic. Ask yourself: as a patient, what has frustrated you about your medical encounters? As a medical provider, what ideas do you have or challenges do you experience? Share your idea for a “flip” or participate in the flips proposed by the Flip the Clinic team or community. Would your organization like to contribute to the effort? Become an organization ally. Flip the Clinic depends on your involvement. So go ahead and be part of the solution. Flip the Clinic! Image Credits: fliptheclinic.org References

  1. http://fliptheclinic.org/faq/ ‘why should a doctor’s visit change?’
  1. SciStarter is a citizen science hotspot and a partner of Discover Magazine. Flu Near You is one of the many citizen science projects on the SciStarter project database

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