Google Epidemiology and STDs

The term “Twitter epidemiology” is not new, but researchers have struggled to find efficient methods of tracking disease outbreaks via social media posts and web searches. This is especially vital in conditions such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), where stigma and embarrassment limit public sharing of symptoms even among friends. Who can blame such reticence? (As one with a ridiculous number of Facebook “friends” myself, I would think twice about revealing my cat’s ailments, let alone my own.) Unfortunately, STD’s flourish in the dark, so to speak, and the incidence of such diseases is on the rise. The specter of antibiotic resistance adds to the urgency of tracking STD outbreaks in real time before they can spread further.


While Google search trends have been followed for disease outbreaks such as flu, for instance, its use has been limited to the publicly available Google Trends data. Starting this summer however, Google began to allow researchers unrestricted access to its search data in order to facilitate the development of real time analytical tools to pinpoint outbreaks without having to wait for local public health officials to verify and report cases. It is assumed that STD information seekers – especially those in the 15-24 year old age range hit hardest by these diseases – will be more likely to use search engines to find out about their symptoms than tweet their friends about them.


This allows researchers to identify trends in searches for specific symptoms such as “vaginal discharge.” While researchers must guard against relying on a single source for data, Google provides a treasure trove for public health surveillance if methods for utilizing the data in real time prove practical. Stay tuned!

October is Health Literacy Month!

October is Health Literacy Month! While the Tech Lister blog generally focuses on cool improvements in the way things and people work in the 21st century, I’m going to highlight an area that doesn’t work so well for anyone – our healthcare system. A recent column in the New York Times illustrates the strange and frustrating obstacles to simply refilling a needed prescription for a chronic illness experienced by the author. That this author, Aaron Carroll, happens to be a physician well-versed in the idiosyncrasies of American healthcare emphasizes the opacity of the system for everyday folks.

To recap the author’s experience: Dr. Carroll lives with ulcerative colitis, a chronic bowel condition that before his recent drug therapy necessitated such life-limiting exigencies as planning his days around bathroom trips. Finally his doctor recommended an off-label use of an older immunosuppressant drug, which is available in generic form. Happily the drug not only relieved Carroll’s symptoms, it was also relatively inexpensive. Problem solved? Not quite – enter the U.S. healthcare system to complicate matters.

When his three month prescription for this beneficial drug runs out, Dr. Carroll must get a new prescription from his doctor. Before he can get that new prescription, he has to have lab tests to make sure the side effects of the drug aren’t causing anemia. The labs where he might obtain the testing are not all covered by his insurance, and those that are covered are subject to change, necessitating new lab testing orders from his doctor. This leads to frequent miscommunication with his doctor’s office, which faxes the old lab order to the new lab facility not realizing they won’t accept anything but a newly written order. Other foul-ups occur in the reporting of the lab results, changes in mail-order pharmacy requirements, and getting the pharmacy the payment before his prescription runs out. Stress of course exacerbates his condition, and he must go through this very stressful process four times a year.

In Dr. Carroll’s words: “There is no bad guy here. I love the drug company that created this medication. The price is more than reasonable. I love the doctor who prescribed it to me. My insurance company has never refused to cover my care, and has always been honest with me. The laboratory personnel are professional and competent. It’s the system – the way things work or fail to work, together – that’s the issue.”

What does all this have to do with health literacy? Remember that the definition of health literacy (according to the Affordable Care Act) is, “the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.” If the healthcare system is unnecessarily complicated and cumbersome even for healthcare professionals, it cannot help but make it that much more difficult for all of us to make appropriate health decisions based on our understanding of the information and services at hand. So, it is vital that all of us – healthcare providers and administrators, educators, caseworkers and community activists and leaders, as well as individual patients and family members – work together to identify and address those areas of healthcare that do not work seamlessly for the patient or provider. Only then can we hope to improve general health literacy beyond the current 12% proficiency level.



There’s a new grocery delivery service in Birmingham. I love it.  It’s called Shipt.

When I lived in Chicago, I was a big fan of delivery services of all kinds.  I’m not just talking take out Indian food.  There were several services that did other things.  For example, there was a service called Kozmo that would deliver as little or as much as you wanted.  I could order a DVD, a magazine and a Diet Coke and they would deliver it to my door in sub-zero temperatures.  I could drop the DVD off at work the next day in a special box (this was before the days of streaming). Kozmo didn’t last very long.  I wasn’t sure how that business model would work. It didn’t.

More successful was Peapod, a grocery delivery service. I believe it started as a software program (library geeks… think Grateful Med), but eventually became web-based. That’s when I occasionally used it. I especially loved it when I had a really bad fall, twisted an ankle, and was on crutches for a few weeks. I lived on the third floor of a walk-up building. They charged a delivery fee and you usually had to order your delivery a day in advance.

Shipt is a relatively new service to Birmingham. Somehow, I received a promotion code to be an “early adopter” and the fee was half price.  The service hadn’t started yet, but I took a leap of faith because I had visions of someone else carrying those 20 pound boxes of cat litter up my 17 steps.  I’ve used the service and have been very pleased.

Key points:

  • Price is currently $99 a year or $14 a month.  No delivery fee for orders over $35.
  • I wouldn’t do the monthly.
  • They don’t expect you to tip (although I usually try to with mixed success).
  • They currently shop at Publix.
  • You download the app to your device. It’s very easy to use.
  • I’m not sure if they have every item in the store. Produce and meat are both available, but I didn’t see that wild Alaskan salmon when it was in season. I have stuck to other items so far. They do have the BOGO items if that’s your thing.
  • You can schedule a delivery window that is an hour long. I usually do it a couple of hours in advance, but I think you can say ASAP and it is within an hour.  You won’t have to wait a full day unless it’s after hours.
  • If your personal shopper can’t find an item on your list, they text you with other options. I love this. They also text you when they’re on the way.
  • Here’s their FAQ:
  • They have a cute logo.

I really hope this succeeds, but I wonder if the business model is sustainable. I’m not sure I would have done it for $99 until the company had a proven track record, but so far so good. It has expanded to other cities.

For the record, I have no vested interest in the company. I just like cat litter delivered to my door.


Shamba Shape Up

Reality TV shows of the home improvement and restaurant/bar business makeover variety have become a popular entertainment staple in the United States recently. Media for Education and Development, in partnership with global extension, health and international aid agencies, have taken this expert “rescue” concept and applied it to help struggling farmers in rural East Africa with the “Shamba Shape Up” series. (“Shamba” is a Swahili term for farm.) Instead of a renowned chef helping a struggling restaurant owner identify the flaws in his or her menu or staff, the Shamba Shape Up features their media team as well as invited experts in veterinary medicine, for instance, or beekeeping or pest control visiting small farmers in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to help them address specific farming problems that may be affecting their crops or farm animals. Show hosts and experts are from the region, and their recommendations reflect the culture of East African countries and practices.


The program estimates that in its first seasons the uptake of the evidence-based agricultural practices from the show resulted in an increase of over $24 million (US) net gain for just two of the farming enterprises, dairy and maize. The audience is estimated at over 10 million farmers.


The program is available on television and radio. A special “iShamba” text messaging service is available to receive farming tips from the show specific to the subscribers’ crops, livestock and location. Full episodes and clips are available on the Shamba Shape Up web site. Viewers of the series are also encouraged to text requests for relevant informational leaflets or download them from the site.

The World Bank recognized Shamba Shape Up during its Harvest Nutrition Contest in 2013.

Loyalty and Rewards Cards-Go Virtual with Key Ring

I have many rewards cards, but never with me when I need them.  I don’t carry keys, so the little cards that attach on the keyring don’t solve the problem.  When I recently signed up for the Plenti program, I was nudged towards needing a solution.  When I needed my Hilton HHonors info to get free wi-fi recently, push became shove!

I had heard of Key Ring in one of the sessions on handy akeyring2pps I attended (and Pat mentioned it in an earlier Tech Lister blog post), so I went to the Play Store and grabbed it for my phone.  I gathered as many of the rewards cards as I could easily put my hands on, and went to work.

The app is straightforward-you hit the big “+” to add a card, make shopping lists, or follow a store.


When you add a card, the camera on the phone opens to take a picture of the barcode; either snap the picture or select “no barcode” to set up cards without one.  You can also take pictures of the front and back of the card if so desired.

Turning on locatikeyring3 bluron services allows the app to find stores near you.  You also have the option to mark favorites that will appear towards the top of your list of cards.  The stores you choose to follow will also appear in the list.  When you click an entry, you can see sale flyers, coupons, and other savings information.

You can edit the barcodes and descriptions once you add them to the app. But what if I need passwords that go along with a loyalty program?  I found via trial and error that you can add notes to card entries via the web version of Key Ring (, but only there for some reason.  You use the same login and password to log in to this version of Key Ring.  In the example below, I entered “the password goes here” in the notes field, to see how it shows up in the app-it is available in the lower part of the screen, but can’t be edited.

bn edit


I’ve got the cards in, now I need to add passwords and I’ll be ready to go.  The info you put in Key Ring can be shared, so I’ll send them to my husband’s phone, too, so he can benefit as well.  I already made use of the app in the first week, when I booked a hotel room and had my reward number handy.  I will find out if there are problems with scanning the barcodes from the phone when I’m shopping; in those cases, the number has to be entered manually.  I’m looking forward to having all this info in one place, we’ll see how it goes!

Is there an app for cancer?

The combination of terms, “games” and “cancer” seems incongruous to most. However, recent trends in health education and care are promoting games and online gaming as a means of encouraging patient engagement, support and learning even – or especially – in remote and rural areas.


A notable contribution to this realm of serious gaming apps includes the introduction this year of iManageCancer, an online gaming and interactive monitoring module sponsored by the European Union. Young people especially can find social support and encouragement through this platform via their mobile phones, although the system is intended for all ages. The gaming components allow cancer patients to address the emotions surrounding their diagnosis and treatment. For instance, a game for children with cancer might involve the ability to “shoot” cancer cells, thus increasing the child’s sense of empowerment. In addition, a monitoring component which tracks therapeutic side effects among other things allows for individualized coping strategies for the patient while alerting the health care team to any serious physical or psychological reactions.

iManageCancer is still in the pilot phase according to company press releases. The hope is that if this project is successful, it can pave the way for apps for conditions where patient empowerment is key to successful management – which would include most conditions, right?

AVS Audio/Visual Software Suite: Versatile, Easy, and Inexpensive

When I started working with the hospital’s on-demand patient education system 10 or so years ago, I found I needed a method for encoding videos in a specific format.  I was fortunate enough to stumble on the AVS software suite (  The $50 unlimited access suavs overviewbscription seemed like a great deal, so I whipped out the credit card and was in business.

Over the years, the video converter software has improved and additional functionality has been added to the suite, all covered by my initial $50 investment.  The AVS suite includes tools for managing audio and video, for burning files, working with images, and converting documents.  It also includes system tools like a registry cleaner.

A few of the tools are ones I use on a regular basis, andavs formats so I am more familiar with those.  I often use the video converter to save video files, whether .mov, .mpg, or .wmv, in the mpeg2 format I need.  I can also rip video files from DVD toavs web create streamable files.  The converter has presets for
various devices and the web, as well, making it easy to create format-friendly versions of videos.  The video editor lets me combine files of various formats and output them in a different format.

When I record voiceovers for PowerPoint presentations, videos, or automated phone calls, I use the audio recorder and audio editor to capture, clean up, and combine audio files as needed.avs audio

I haven’t played with the image editor or document converter as yet.  The document converter lets youavs document save files in various formats, and will extract images from a document as well.

This software suite has been one of my best investments, and saves me many hours of frustration in producing audio and video files.  The license key assures that I can reinstall the software when I upgrade computers.  When the occasional glitch has occurred, I have consulted with the AVS support team, and they have always been helpful.

New! EndNote Manuscript Matcher

Are you planning to finish a journal article or two this summer? Are you curious about which is the ideal journal to publish your work?

EndNote’s new manuscript matcher tool will generate some best-fit journals for your manuscript.

  • Simply enter your titles and abstract.  For better results, put the references in your manuscript into an EndNote group and select it.
  • EndNote uses patented algorithms based on Web of Science to generate a list of suggested publication with key metrics like JCR Impact factor.

Click on the image below to watch a short video demonstration and explanation of Manuscript Matcher.


If you have EndNote, you can access Manuscript Matcher through your EndNote online account. If you do not, you can create a free EndNote Basic account.

If you have questions, Ask a Librarian. We are happy to help!

Hooks: Notifications (mostly about TV but still useful)

I don’t know about you but I don’t like a lot of alerts and notifications on my phone.  Please don’t tell me every time I get a new email, I’m stressed enough.  However, since I am stressed, there are things I’m missing.  Hopefully, not important things but things I would like to know about.  For example, if my Mom doesn’t send me a message about it, it may be two or three days before I think to wonder how the Cubs are doing (19-15 but we just swept the Mets in a 4 game series so I’ll take it) and check.  Most apps do have notification settings but at install I almost always (ok, always) default to the, “please don’t push anything to me, I’ll let you know if I want it” option.  All apps are different though and figuring out how to set up the notifications is easily put off.  Welcome Hooks.  Hooks is only for the iPhone (sorry Androids) but is a free app that allows you to set up all kinds of interesting notifications.  Such as

hooks rain


hooks isbell


hooks cubs

You can browse popular notifications

hooks popular

or create your own.

Notifications appear or you can go to the tab to view them.

Hooks notif


Clicking on one of the notifications takes you to more information, a website or app usually.  So far I’ve been happy with it and would recommend exploring the options to see what you might be interested in adding.

P.S.  I used PushBullet to quickly send these photos from my phone to my computer.  If you haven’t tried this yet, don’t delay!

“Digital Jedis” and the Nepal Earthquake

Immediately following the massive earthquake in Nepal on Saturday, April 25, there was an outpouring of support both financial and material to help the stricken and remote countryside. The news media has featured not only the devastation, but also the heroic efforts of humanitarian and rescue workers from around the world as they pitched in to help survivors and assess the damage. Meanwhile, most of the rest of us can only watch helplessly from afar, with perhaps a monetary donation to an aid agency our only practical way to help.


[Nepal geography photo – “Nepal topo en”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –]

But a new form of digital volunteer support for disaster recovery has emerged. As of Wednesday, April 29, more than 2100 micromapping “Digital Jedis” have assisted in screening over 60,000 images and tweets from affected survivors and helpers on the ground to crowdsource the creation of a plan of action for aid organizations. This virtual screening of aid requests, volunteer offers, reports of damage to infrastructure and the like serves to limit such information being lost in the chaotic aftermath of disasters. In addition, this accurate, current information can help save lives. The sorted information is mapped and sent to the aid agencies, providing real-time updates of the situation in a particular area.


[Image source: Al Jazeera Science & Technology column, 11/13/2013 –]

MicroMappers is a product of the Qatar Computing Research Institute and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Its first micromapping disaster recovery project was the Pakistan earthquake in 2013. Other disasters the Digital Jedis have assisted with included the Philippines 2013 and 2014 typhoons, the Balkan flooding of May 2014, the Chilean earthquake of 2014 and the Vanatu tropical cyclone this March.