EHRs work with MedLinePlus

Previously, we discussed the AMA’s complaints about Electronic Health Records (EHRs). Now, from the National Library of Medicine (NLM), comes more optimistic news about how they can be useful for patients.

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 12.08.09 AMThe NLM’s MedlinePlus Connect links the diagnosis given on an EMR directly to MedlinePlus, instantly giving you details of what your condition is. However, the NLM does caution that in order to get the integrating system up and running you’ll “need to work with the technical representative or staff member who can add links to your EHR system.”

Fortunately, even without an EHR, you can easily use Medline Plus on a desktop computer or mobile device. It’s completely free and has information on a wide range of medical topics, including details on prescription medications and dietary supplements, as well as interactive tutorials and a medical dictionary. All of the information is written in lay language—and that includes, through external links—44 languages in addition to English. If you can understand professional level medical literature, you’ll also want to check out MEDLINE/PubMed, the NLM’s site for biomedical professionals, which offers free summaries of 22 million articles from 5000 biomedical journals, many (but not all) of which link to free full articles.

For those of you who like to know everything before you go under the knife, MedlinePlus also includes videos of surgical procedures. Um, we’ll just stick to picking out get well cards, thanks.


Senior Living Facilities Realize Seniors LIKE Technology

One of our frequent themes at Senior Tech Insider is the image vs. reality of the relationship of seniors and technology. Apple’s famous “1984” commercial came out in the eponymous year, which means that even some of today’s oldest seniors would have been young enough to be introduced to Macs and other personal computers on the job.

Yes, even the Apple ad's star, Anya Major, is nearing fifty.

Yes, even the Apple ad’s star, Anya Major, is nearing fifty.

Thirty years later of personal and professional computer use later, they are not terribly happy to find themselves in senior residencies that think all they require is an antiquated computer lab. As trade publication Senior Housing News reports, the access demands of new residents are driving providers to install wi-fi throughout their facilities in order to stay competitive.

In a reflection of how computers are now seen as social access devices, instead of merely business machines, many of the old computer lab spaces are being re-done as Internet cafes, where residences can talk to each other as well as contact their families online.

Nevertheless, while the executives who administer these facilities are trying, they’re still not quite getting it. One source cheerfully reassured SHN, “It’s no longer grandma’s nursing home.”

But that’s the whole point: It’s not the nursing home that’s changed. It’s the grandmas (and grandpas) within it.



(Yet Another) Malware Alert

Security vendor TrendMicro lists “health-related” as one of the top three categories of spam. This is not only annoying, but dangerous: Spam emails often include links to malware sites. Another nasty spammer habit is to pounce on any trending topic and send out emails related to it. Worst of all, there are virus programs that infiltrate address books and send out emails that appear to come from people you know. In combination, they become a triply dangerous trap for the unwary. Always remember–think before you click.

As a good hygiene rule, you should always mouse over any link in an email or website that seems suspicious. At the bottom or to the side of most browsers, you’ll see the code underlying the link, so you can make sure it goes to where the text claims it will. Do you trust that this text links to a website about warm, relaxing winter vacations ? (Well, depends on what your definition of “warm” is.)

Unfortunately, knowing that people have learned how to do this, the bad guys have come up with another combination of nasty techniques. TrendMicro offers the technical details of a new spoofing attack that uses links to legitimate sites. “Spoofing” is the practice of creating a scarily credible copy of a business email, with links to malicious sites. Only now, the bad guys are using GoogleDrive and Dropbox, so when you mouse over the links, they don’t initially jump out at you as obviously suspect. Unfortunately, if you click on the links, they will start to auto-download malware placed  on these legitimate data storage sites.

Aside from the anti-malware programs companies like TrendMicro are selling, your best defense is just to be logical: Ask yourself questions, such as why would your children or best friends be sending you (supposedly) urgent information by email? And why on earth would any legitimate business ask you to change a password via an untraceable email??

What's wrong with this picture? Why would Google be writing you from Germany (.de)?

What’s wrong with this picture? Why would Google be writing you from Germany (.de)?


Unintended Insights from the documentary Cyber-Seniors

Cyber-Seniors, currently making the rounds of indie cinemas, is a well-meaning documentary by filmmaker Saffron Cassaday that chronicles the efforts of her siblings and their high school classmates to introduce Toronto seniors to the Internet.

It’s a grandchild’s valentine to the grandparent generation, which is both its charm and its flaw. There’s too much condescension to the “cuteness” of seniors; it would have been far better to see more of what the participants felt from their own point-of-view. Still, it ought to be required viewing by anyone designing technology or offering tech tutorials for older seniors.

Some of the awkward unfamiliarity is a bit surprising, when you consider that if you subtract twenty years, all but the very oldest would likely have encountered computers in their workplaces. Nevertheless, aging itself makes even the most basic of computer tasks difficult; for example, we see a 77-year-old flummoxed by double-clicking.

In truth, we take clicking so for granted, we forget that it’s actually a proprioceptive challenge: The brain must determine and signal how much pressure is required to differentiate clicks, further complicated in the old by compensating for arthritic fingers. Unfortunately, proprioception, like other senses, declines with age, so the “simple” act of clicking becomes akin to mastering chords on a guitar. Similarly, reading on a monitor becomes like trying to find a grey cat in a fog.

Watching Cyber-Seniors, you see clearly that navigating the Internet is a double-whammy for the advanced elderly: It requires both understanding new intellectual concepts and mastering novel movements. The cognitive challenges cannot be underestimated: Many of the participants forget not only their passwords, but their security prompts. When asked, “What is your pet’s name?” one nonagenarian replies, “I don’t have a pet anymore.”

As much as it intends to celebrate the efforts of the young volunteers, the documentary also unintentionally demonstrates that generosity and kindness don’t quite make up for lack of preparation. Some of the cognitive load would have been lightened if the volunteers had a practiced script with well-tested procedures. It would have been extremely helpful for the seniors to have a printout with reminders of the basics, from steps to get on the Web to a box to write down passwords.

Yet in one respect, the seniors caught on fast. The filmmakers encouraged them to produce YouTube videos for a clickbait contest (the videos are still online). When one woman’s video is thumbed down, she asks—with just the right tone of shaming–“Who could dislike something so innocuous?”



Aging in Distance

From the Chinese journal China Media Research comes a new term-of-art to consider: “Aging in Distance.” They’re contrasting “aging in place” with the experience of those who will be aging outside of their home countries, far from their native cultures and immediate families.


They are calling for papers to address the topic in a special issue of the journal to be published early next year. Deadline for abstract submission is July 25, 2014.

“We would welcome papers that enhance our understanding of how age and ageing is perceived in different cultures, what roles the mass media can play in constructing and perpetuating stereotypes about older people, how the formal model of community care can better link with the model of family care to form a culturally appropriate age-care model for immigrants in particular and the larger population in general. Topic areas include, but not limited to, stereotypes of older people; social media and older people; cultural assumptions of ageing and age-care; communication campaigns that enhance understanding between older and younger generations, mass media coverage of older people and audience effects, and cross-cultural adjustment of older migrants.”

Just for starters, we’d say teleprescence should certainly be a candidate topic.

Satellite photo of Earth, courtesy DMSP and NASA 


Happy Birthday, Vint Cerf

Vint Cerf, one of the pioneers of the Internet, turns 71 today.

Cerf shares his birthday with Alan Turing, the British mathematician who cracked the German’s Enigma code. The ACM named its highest award for him, which Cerf received in 2004.

In their mutual honor, we recommend this essay on Turing that Cerf wrote on what would have been Turing’s 100th birthday.


What was that about “technophobic” seniors?

Cerf is currently the Chief Internet Evangelist for Google.