RIP Steve Jobs, a technology innovator and icon

Like the rest of you, I saw the sad news that Apple Co-Founder and longtime CEO Steve Jobs lost his battle to pancreatic cancer today at the age of 56.

The world has lost a technology pioneer and visionary. So many of the technologies that have changed our lives over the last three decades are due to him and his leadership at Apple and Pixar.

My first experience with a personal computer came almost 25 years ago when I was in the first grade. We used Apple IIe computers in the school computer lab that didn’t even have a hard drive; you had to boot every application off a 5 1/4-inch floppy disk. At the time, that  was revolutionary, and the Apple II series was the first commercially successful line of what we know today as Desktop PCs. Now most of us couldn’t get by without one of these.

When I was in middle school a few years later, we used Macintosh computers for design and photo editing. They’re still considered the top brand of computer for graphic design.

The iPod, which I first got while in college, changed the way we listen to music. The iPhone combined the features of the Blackberry with the iPod’s music playing features, allowing us to have both features on one device. And we’ve seen movies featuring Pixar animation.

Jobs’ inventions transformed not only computing and cell phones, but communication technology as a whole. Steve Jobs is responsible for so much of our communication technology today. Sadly, cancer, as it has to so many others, claimed Steve Jobs’ life way too soon.



Hospitals, healthcare providers should be smartphone-friendly

Last night, on the weekly Health Communication Social Media tweetchat, one of the discussion topics was the impact of the increased proliferation of smartphones in regards to health communication. If it is an opportunity, how can hospitals and providers tap into it? If it is a potential problem, what can they do about it?

I take the former view. With 54% of all mobile phone sales in the U.S. now being for smartphones, hospitals and healthcare providers need to become smartphone-friendly.

They don’t necessarily need to go out and develop their own apps for smartphones, though that’s something they should consider if they find it is the best way to reach their patients. But hospitals and larger medical practices should, as a start, build smartphone-optimized versions of their websites.

I’ve been a smartphone user for a few years now. If I’m away from my computer, it makes it relatively easy to look up information online. But websites that are not smartphone-optimized take a long time to load and are difficult to view on smartphone screens. You may also not be able to use all the features of the website on your smartphone.

I can read the New York Times in a smartphone-friendly format. Why shouldn’t I be able to get information on hospitals or healthcare providers the same way?

I understand that, especially in these difficult economic times, this may be beyond the budget of smaller practices. And even if they could financially afford it, it may not make business sense if its customers/patients don’t use smartphones heavily. After all, any business purchase decision has to provide some kind of a return.

But the larger practices, hospitals and healthcare systems that serve large numbers of people should do this. For them, it does not require that large of an investment. And it would help them better reach a public that will only increase its usage of smartphones.

What do you think?

Social Media can be useful in emergencies

If any of you live in the Middle Atlantic states like I do, you experienced two natural disasters last week that are pretty much unheard of in this part of the country. On Tuesday, we got the 5.9 magnitude earthquake centered in Central Virginia that was felt as far away as Chicago. This weekend, we got Hurricane Irene, which ravaged the entire east coast from North Carolina to New England.

Perhaps it was somewhat apropos that the newest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine has an article on how Social Media can be integrated into emergency-preparedness efforts. Dr. Raina Merchant, Dr. Nicole Lurie and Stacy Elmer write:

“Since these new media are so pervasive in communication (more than 40 million Americans, for instance, use social media Web sites multiple times a day), it makes sense to explicitly consider the best way of leveraging these communication channels before, during, and after disasters. “

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other government leaders relayed information to their constituents via their Twitter feeds. Businesses posted information about early closings on their Social Media feeds. People shared photos and videos of the two disasters – many admittedly just for fun, but others to genuinely inform. And in the chaos that emergencies such as Hurricane Irene bring, clear communication is vital.

The important thing the Christies and Bloombergs of the world need to remember, however, is that they need to listen to what their constituents are saying on Social Media during these emergencies as well. Don’t just use it as another means of shouting your talking points. If electricity is down or someone is in a bad cell phone reception area, Social Media may be their only way to communicate. One of my graduate school instructors, Leigh Fazzina, used Twitter to get rescued when she was injured in a bicycle crash in a wooded area with no cell phone reception. And Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker regularly monitors Twitter to identify potential and actual problems in his city and either address them himself or direct people to the agencies who can address them.

U.K.’s proposed Social Media ban is too late

Social Media played a significant role in two of the major political uprisings of recent years – the post-election protests in Iran in 2009 and the demonstrations in Egypt this past spring which ultimately led to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak. And it is reportedly playing a major role in this week’s massive riots in London and across the United Kingdom – to the point that, according to MediaPost’s Erik Sass, Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that they should consider laws allowing officials to ban people from using Facebook, Twitter and other Social Media platforms if they believe they are using them to organize riots or otherwise plotting violence.

Cameron also reportedly said that U.K. home secretary Theresa May will meet with executives from Facebook, Twitter, and Research In Motion, which makes Blackberry devices, to determine the feasibility of a social media ban.

Let’s put aside the obvious civil liberties argument here. There is another problem with this action that is more pertinent to this blog’s discussion of communication technologies – it’s too late.

The horse is already out of the barn. The riots have been going on for a week. Even if officials can develop a means to block people using Social Media for these purposes without inadvertently violating the freedoms of those not doing so, it’s too late to make a difference.

Plus don’t forget that, if these people can access Social Media, they also likely have text-messaging and other communications tools to set up riots, flash mobs and other illegal behavior. Even the most basic mobile phones can do that. Blocking their access to Facebook and Twitter is akin to playing Whack-A-Mole: as soon as you knock one mole down, another pops up. Are they going to take all mobile phones away?

It is sad to see the images of these riots on TV and the societal problems in the U.K. that appear to have led to them. But blocking Social Media access, in addition to being hypocritical (after all, we applauded the people of Iran and Egypt for rising up), simply won’t work. It’s way too little way too late.


FDA issues rules for mobile medical devices

It’s not the long-awaited social media guidance. But it is something good.

According to the website, the FDA has enacted new rules for mobile medical devices used by healthcare providers. These devices will be classified as Medical Device Data Systems (MDDS) and will mostly be considered, for regulatory approval purposes, as Class I (low risk) medical devices.

Lynette Luna reports:

The rule requires IT companies to register health care hardware and software that transfer, store, convert or display health care data. According to the FDA, these Class 1 devices don’t include devices that will be used for active patient monitoring.

The following devices will fall under this FDA classification:

  • Medical billing systems
  • Work flow software
  • Communications protocols
  • Wireless modems
  • Laptops and tablets (such as the iPad)

Devices not covered by this ruling, according to the report, include those used for active monitoring of patients.

Like other Class I medical device vendors, MDDS vendors “list their products and detail publicly any potential adverse effects of their products. And health care providers must report any deaths or serious injuries MDDS devices may have contributed to or caused.”

“This rule is a common-sense regulatory approach that provides clarity and predictability for manufacturers of these data systems,” Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., director of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement. “This shows our flexibility in applying regulations for medical device data systems that are not overly burdensome for manufacturers, but continue to assure that data stored, transferred or displayed on these systems remain reliable.”

Report: FDA approves iPad, iPhone Radiology App for mobile diagnoses

I’ve tweaked the federal government as a whole on this blog many times. And I’ve also tweaked the FDA for being way too slow to adapt to the emergence of new technology and its usefulness in health care.

The FDA still needs to get its act together on developing a social media guidance for pharmaceutical companies. But I have to give credit where credit is due as well.

According to AppleInsider, the FDA has approved Apple’s mobile radiology diagnostic application – the first of its kind – for use in viewing medical images to make diagnoses using the iPad and iPhone. The announcement came Friday.

The FDA said in its announcement that this technology “is not intended to replace full workstations and is indicated for use only when there is no access to a workstation.” However, this news improves health care by allowing physicians to diagnose and begin treating problems quicker than before.

Right now, a radiologist would have to wait until he or she could get access to a permanent workstation to view images. In a busy hospital, or a hospital with lesser facilities (such as many rural hospitals), this could significantly delay treatment, prolonging the patient’s agony. While there will always be shortcomings with medical treatment, this new technology will improve both the quality and speed of care.

This approval has been almost three years in the making. The application, called Mobile MiM, was first developed in 2008. That year, it won the Apple Design Award for “Best iPhone Healthcare & Fitness Application. ” The FDA has spent the time since then evaluating the app’s reliability and security. It is expected to be available for download next week.

Check out these pictures, from Apple Insider, of the displays this app can provide.

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