Easing the end of life: Startups that are helping people make the ultimate decision

Gigaom

The world of technology, particularly medical technology, tends to be consumed with making us superhuman. It wants to enhance our abilities and prolong our lives, if not enable us to live forever. But new innovations give rise to new and tough choices, and a small but growing group of startups sees it as their mission to use technology, not to extend life, but to help people make and document some of the most difficult decisions regarding the end of it.

The story of a patient from her days as a student at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine particularly haunts Azalea Kim, co-founder of the startup TrueNorth. A 60-year-old woman, who had terminal cancer, came to the emergency room one weekend evening in dire condition. Because of a complicated family situation, Kim said, she arrived alone, without any family member to serve as an advocate and describe the…

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Let’s talk about blogging fears

Let’s talk about blogging fears. Earlier today I attended the Oxford Brookes University Health and Life Sciences Research Conference 2013, and enjoyed some inspiring sessions. Amongst them, there was a session called “Blogging for healthcare and life sciences: What is the potential for academic development, research and teaching?”, by Marion Waite and Anne Osterrieder. It was a brief, engaging session covering some basics about blogging. We also discussed some of the most common barriers when it comes to blogging. That is, the things that stop us from posting our thoughts on our blogs. Lack of time aside, I was particularly interested in what I like to call apparently some people already call the blogger’s block.

To me, the major block is the idea that what I post will make me look less professional, and possibly stupid. In essence, my 3 main barriers are:

  • It’s all up to me. When I have published before, there has always been some kind of peer review process. For instance, my latest paper on the British Journal of Dermatology went through a few comments and modifications. Any published scientist will agree that that is a rather annoying process. But, nevertheless, I find it reassuring: if these experts decided to publish my stuff, it can’t be that bad. In a way, it’s someone else’s decision, so the mistake cannot be all mine. However, when it comes to blogging, I am here alone, typing. The decision of posting and the consequences of it are all my responsibility.
  • Language barriers. Not being a native English-speaker makes me very insecure when I blog in English. When I have blogged or written for the Web in my native languages Catalan and Spanish, I have never felt this insecurity. I have lived and worked in Oxford for many, many years, and my British family and friends say that my English is good. So I guess it is not that bad. But still, it lessens my confidence.
  • Blogs are not always good. I have seen more boring blogs than I can remember. I am also lazy, so unless a blog is really engaging, well written and relevant to me, I stop reading after the second sentence. So I worry that people will find my posts boring, irrelevant, badly written, too long, and so on.
These are my 3 main barriers. What are yours?
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First ever surgery using Google Glass performed in Spain

The first surgery in the world performed using Google Glass took place last week in Madrid, Spain. The actual operation was on a 49-year-old man who needed some work on his knee.

Google Glass was actually used not as an aid during the operation, but to broadcast the procedure worldwide to a group of professionals. Around 150 people were able to follow the operation live, watching exactly what the surgeon was seeing, via streaming video thanks to Glass Streamer, the Google Glass app developed by the Spanish company Droiders.

Now, I have always been very critical about Google Glass in general, and in particular about its use in daily life. This parody really sums up what I think. But when it comes to eHealth, I think there is huge potential for these kind of augmented reality devices. Not only in terms of learning, teaching and exchanging knowledge, but also for its use by (e)patients. For instance, as you may know my area of expertise is palliative care. This means the care of terminally ill people, who are often very limited in terms of movement and access to resources, especially when care takes place at home (research keeps showing that, given the choice, most of us would rather die in our own homes). So just think about the possibilities that these kind of devices could offer in the near future. Seriously ill people, and their caregivers, could have a much more direct interaction with their medical teams from a distance.

For example, consider this scenario. Jane is at home with her partner Joe. Jane is very seriously ill: she is bedridden and has a bad ulcer that needs cleaning, and the dressing needs replacing. But Joe is unsure how to proceed, so he calls the nurse at the hospice. Joe can’t really explain very well how the ulcer looks, after all, it just looks bad. So the nurse finds it difficult to guide him, and the whole situation takes a lot of time and creates a lot of unnecessary stress on both sides.

Now imagine that the hospice has given a pair of augmented reality glasses to Joe and Jane, the same way they have given them other special equipment. Joe uses the glasses to show the nurse how the ulcer is looking, so that the nurse is able to a) assess the actual state of the ulcer, and b) appropriately guide Joe through the process of cleaning it and changing the dressings.

This may seem a futile example, but when one is at home alone, looking after a terminally ill relative, it is these little things that make a world of difference.

WWDC 2013 and the Web Squared

So I watched the livestream of the 2013 WWDC keynote last Tuesday. I found it very inspiring and it actually motivated me to update my Mac to Mountain Lion, in order to be able to download the iBook Authoring app. Talk about marketing huh.

One of the things that struck me in that keynote is that the theoretical underpinning of the new version of the iOS 7 Photos feature is very Web Squared (Web2). iOS 7 Photos is able to automatically manage and organise your pictures in different categories (Collections, Moments, and Years), based on the time and place data tags. In other (non-technical) words: the camera remembers where and when you took the picture, and sorts the images accordingly, creating smart groups. The idea being that it will organise your pictures for you. So for instance, it will automatically group together all those pictures from that weekend in Paris last winter, because it knows the photos were taken in that place and at that time. You don’t have to go into your machine and do it yourself. Let’s face it, who has the time or the energy to organise photos? How many untagged, unnamed, disorganised pictures do you have in your machine/s?

What I found interesting about iOS 7 is that it was so close to one of the best reads I’ve had in a long while: Tim O’Reilly & John Battelle‘s Web2. The basic idea behind it is that everything that we do with machines casts an information shadow. Just think of your own information shadow in your favourite social network. Consider all the information about you that you generate via your Twitter account, for instance. And that is only one fraction of your information shadow in cyberspace. Let’s follow with the example of Photos: every time you take a picture with your smartphone, the information shadow it casts consists of (among other things) the place and the time. Indeed, when I re-read the WebWhite Paper whilst preparing this post, I realised that O’Reilly and Battelle had literally pointed in this direction already in 2009:

“Consider geotagging of photos. Initially, users taught their computers the association between photos and locations by tagging them. When cameras know where they are, every photo will be geotagged, with far greater precision than the humans are likely to provide”

In a way, the basic day-to-day idea that is so appealing about the Web2 is that machines work for us, in quite a natural, almost organic way, adapting to our movements and using the information we generate to make our own lives easier. The distance between the real world and the virtual world Web is shorter than ever: the world and Web are becoming a continuum. The key concept behind Web2 is that, finally, the Web meets the world. It is the natural evolution of the Web 2.0, its missing link.

To summarise all this, I’ll leave you with the beautiful equation created by O’Reilly & Battelle:

Web 2.0 + World = Web2