What is the Isabel symptom checker?

Making the correct diagnosis in a timely manner is crucial. It not only avoids lots of unnecessary (and expensive) tests, but gets the appropriate treatment started more quickly.

But making a diagnosis can be difficult. And one of the leading causes of medical malpractice suits is “failure to diagnose”; that’s why so many cases of indigestion are worked up as potential heart attacks, or headaches for aneurysms or tumors.

Many patients (and physicians) turn to apps or online tools to help make a diagnosis. Unfortunately, Harvard just published a study that shows these tools are only right about half the … Continue reading

Googling doctors

Too funny.

I just read this post on the popular medical blog, KevinMD: How do patients really feel about doctors? Google shares their secrets.

While Google’s autocomplete can be quite convenient, albeit creepy, it can also be pretty mean. I decided to see how Google’s autocomplete felt about various medical specialties. Apparently a lot of specialties are stupid and useless.

The author shares the following examples:

googling doctors

googling doctors

googling doctors

googling doctors

Well, I was a surgical nurse and I have to agree that a lot of surgeons are jerks, but certainly not all of them. And calling gynecologists evil seems a bit extreme, doesn’t … Continue reading

Calcium and vitamin D tracking app

calcium and vitamin d appI’ve written several posts on calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is an important nutrient, but most evidence suggests we need to get more calcium in what we eat, rather than supplements.

It’s the same with vitamin D. We need to eat a variety of foods that are rich in vitamin D and also spend more time in the sunshine. There is no data at this time to support vitamin D supplements.

Related post: Healthy adults don’t need multivitamins

But it’s difficult to follow the recommended intake levels of both nutrients. Every day I try to eat foods … Continue reading

The FDA drug shortages app

fda drug shortages appWhen the cost of both brand name and generic levothyroxin skyrocketed two years ago, the first thing I did (after complaining loudly to the pharmacist, although it wasn’t his fault) was look at the Food and Drug Administrations’s (FDA) website.

Following the Economics 101 rule of supply and demand, the sudden price increase of a drug is usually due to a shortage. Sometimes ingredients are difficult to find, or a quality control issue has limited the supply.

The FDA has a page that lists all known drug shortages, including the reason for the shortage and how long it is … Continue reading

CrowdMed – Crowdsourcing for a diagnosis

Crowdfunding, done through internet companies such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter, has been popular for some time. It’s a simple idea: You post your project or fundraising goal on their websites and hope enough people are interested to make a donation. You can also offer incentives to increase your donors’ generosity.

It seems the same concept has come to health care. I read about an interesting new internet start-up company called CrowdMed that, according to its mission statement, is:

Harnessing the wisdom of crowds to solve even the world’s most difficult medical cases quickly and accurately online.

Rather than seeking … Continue reading

Protecting your personal health data

Almost since it went online, experts have been pointing out multiple security flaws in the federal health insurance exchange website, HealthCare.gov.

And I’ve reported about security problems in my state-run exchange, as well.

But the latest information about a security issue affecting your personal data isn’t the result of poor design—it’s intentional—and that makes it even more egregious: HealthCare.gov Sends Personal Data to Dozens of Tracking Websites

The digital watchdog group, Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) reports:

EFF researchers have independently confirmed that healthcare.gov is sending personal health information to at least 14 third party domains, even if the

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Hospitals are vulnerable to hacking

An article last week in the MIT Technology Review issued a warning that our health care information, including medical, insurance and financial records, might not be secure.

Along with vast troves of credit card information and celebrity snapshots, hackers stole a record number of medical records from U.S. health-care facilities this year. In 2015, attacks targeting health data will become even more common, according to security researchers.

Carl Leonard, principal security analyst for Websense, says hackers are breaking into the computer networks of health-care facilities with increasing frequency and taking valuable personal information that is often secured improperly. In August,

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Protect your health care information

protect your health care informationOops, they did it again

This week revealed another major data hack, this time targeting a huge health care group, Tennessee-based Community Health.

A cyberattack suspected to have originated in China stole Social Security numbers and other personal data for 4.5 million patients whose records were in Community Health Services Inc.’s system, the company said Monday.

The data breach included the names, addresses, birth dates, telephone numbers and Social Security numbers of patients who were referred for or received services from doctors affiliated with the hospital group in the last five years.

4.5 million patients! What a jackpot … Continue reading

Health care apps – Skin cancer detection

skin cancer detectionThe Doctor Mole skin cancer detection app

I was browsing through some smartphone apps last week and I ran across one called Doctor Mole. At first I thought it had something to do with the garden pest—I have an infestation of moles plowing through my vegetable garden every evening, so they are much on my mind.

I thought, “Yes! An app to tell me how to get rid of moles!”

Nope. Wrong kind of mole.

But I was still interested. I had heard of these skin cancer tracking apps, so I decided to take a look and see what … Continue reading

Unbelievable security flaw

Mark my words—Washington state’s health exchange is going to be the next big news story about an internet security breach resulting in the theft of consumers’ personal information.

As I mentioned in Monday’s post about internet security and your health care records, I recently changed the password to my family’s account on our state’s health benefits (Obamacare) exchange, wahealthplanfinder.org.

In that post I cautioned against using your personal (insecure) email to communicate sensitive health information.

So imagine my surprise and dismay when I received an email from Washington Healthplanfinder not only acknowledging my change of password, but also … Continue reading

Protect your medical records

Because hackers want your info

It seems we can’t go more than a week or two without learning of another internet security breach.

Last week’s news was all about the “Heartbleed” bug, and everyone has been advised to change their passwords for frequently used websites and online accounts. This includes anyone who bought health insurance through healthcare.gov, the federally-run Obamacare exchange.

I bought health insurance through our state-run exchange, and I’ve already changed my password for that account, as well. I don’t know if that particular website is at risk, but better safe than sorry, right?

Related information: Continue reading

Concussion assessment apps

There’s no such thing as a “mild” concussion

Last week I posted about first aid for concussions, which is important because head injuries in kids are a growing concern in the medical and public health communities.

Of particular importance is avoiding the potentially fatal “second impact syndrome”; if a young athlete suffers a “mild” concussion and then sustains another within a few weeks, “diffuse cerebral swelling, brain herniation, and death can occur.” Luckily, it’s rare.

But even minor concussions need to be recognized and treated, and it can be difficult because symptoms are often subtle and most parents … Continue reading

Is your electronic health record (EHR) accurate?

electronic health recordsAccess to your records is important

If, like me, your health care has been disrupted by new insurance coverage and the loss of your doctors and/or hospital network, it’s important that you have a hard copy of your health records.

I’ve always advised patients to keep copies of all their important health reports—x-rays, lab results, operative and pathology reports, etc.

A timeline of surgeries and hospitalizations is a good idea, too.

And it’s vital to keep an up-to-date medication list, including any frequently used over-the-counter products such as baby aspirin, ibuprofen, antacids, vitamins and herbal supplements (to name but a … Continue reading

Humidity for sinus health

humidity for sinus healthI saw this Travel Humidifier on a pharmacist’s blog last week, and I’m thinking I might get one.

Normally, I don’t buy a lot of gadgets of any kind, but I’m kind of excited about this humidifier.


Just a few weeks ago, I arrived home from a plane trip and promptly came down with a cold that turned into a sinus infection.

I wasn’t as conscientious as I could have been with my hand sanitizer, I know, but I blame the plane’s low humidity for injuring my nose’s first line of defense.

What do I hate most about plane … Continue reading

The Machine That Goes “Bing!”

Well, 2013 is ending and what a year it’s been in health care! I fear 2014 will deliver more confusion, cost and concerns related to health care and health insurance, but for now I’d like to end this year on a humorous note.

Like me, many of you will be old enough to remember seeing the Monty Python movie The Meaning of Life when it hit the theaters in 1983. Even though it’s 30 years old, there is a hilarious operating room scene that is still applicable today.

In it, the doctors are so obsessed with new technology, including the … Continue reading