Monday, March 18, 2013

Uncovering drug interactions from search queries

In this video, Dr. Eric Horvitz, Distinguished Scientist at Microsoft Research, discusses how search queries in the web can give doctors and drug companies information on the side effects of drugs or even the interaction between different drugs that has been overlooked during clinical trials. The summary from this talk:
  • Nearly two-thirds of the people in the web are looking for health care information and to do self-diagnosis.
  • Dr. Horvitz and his collaborators used this search information to determine potential drug interactions from 82 million search queries on Bing, Google, and Yahoo.
  • They found that if a popular anti-depressant and a popular cholesterol-lowering drug are both taken by the same individual could cause a rise in blood sugar. 
  • Dr. Horvitz believes that this technique can be used to detect dangerous drug interactions earlier than the FDA's adverse event reporting system.
  •  The same line of reasoning can be applied beyond drugs to medical devices. For example, medical device companies can use this method for post-market surveillance, to understand the impact of medical devices on users and/or patients.
  • In short, the world wide web becomes a hub for health care.
Photo credit: J. Troha, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Too hot, too cold?

This is an interesting article by an environmental psychologist, discussing the role of temperature on knowledge work. Research has indicated that the most optimal temperature for doing office work is around 72 degree Fahrenheit. Besides the actual temperature, human perceptions of temperature are also influenced by environmental design characteristics such as the colors of the walls, with rooms painted with warmer colors perceived as being warmer. Value systems also play a role in the perception of temperature. For example, if you are a conservationist, you may perceive the room to be much warmer compared to others.  

Seems like it is not such a good idea to keep the conference rooms so cold if you want your meetings to be productive!

Photo credit: Andy Butkaj (Flickr), via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Reducing the fear factor during medical procedures

This article in this month’s issue of ‘Monitor on Psychology’ describes how strategies such as distraction and exposure therapy can be employed to reduce anxiety among patients, specifically children, who face medical procedures.

The article talks about how anaesthesiologists are using cartoons help children stay calm in operating rooms.  Researchers are also exploring the usefulness of video games to reduce anxiety. In one study, researchers had one group of healthy children watch footage of the game ‘Finding Nemo’ while another group played the game. One hand of the children in both groups was immersed in ice-cold water. The study showed that the children who were actively engaged in the game showed more tolerance to the pain, compared to the children who only watched the video footage. Why is this the case? This is because actively playing the game requires the use of executive cognitive processes that reduce the perception of pain. Research is also underway to determine the type of games (e.g., action games, mellow games) that are most beneficial in reducing anxiety and manage painful medical procedures among children (and clearly, there will be individual differences).

Exposure therapy is also another technique that is used to lower anxiety levels. For example, simulated medical procedures are used to expose children to sights, sounds, and smells associated with the procedure as well as the equipment that will be used during a procedure. 

These techniques should be kept in mind when designing workflows and systems to create an optimal user experience for patients.

Photo credit: Danielle Grannan, via Wikimedia Commons.