Ramblings: The global ebola scare

TheĀ current threat ofĀ an ebola pandemic occurring on our shores has raised several concerns. While there are discussions pertaining toĀ the economy, health and healthcare infrastructure and the safeguards in place, the main issue concerning the general public is the lack of a vaccine or cure for the disease.

A quick search off the Internet indicatesĀ that eloba first emerged in Sudan and ZaireĀ back inĀ 1976 andĀ there have been frequent cases of eloba outbreaks in the Africa region since then. However,Ā it is the most recent outbreak that triggered a global ebola scare because the possibility of a pandemic happening in their community is very real.

This brings me back to a blog post dated 13 Mar 2013 –Ā Ramblings: Why it is important for us to help Low And Medium Income CountriesĀ where I wrote this;

What many people do not realise is that the world is connected and we are all neighbours on the same planet. Some of us are fortunate to be born in developed countries while others had lessor luck and was born in areas with huge disadvantages.

If we do not helpĀ rectifyĀ some of the problems in other parts of this planet, it will come to affect us in one way or another.Ā Using public health as an example, if there is aĀ pandemicĀ outbreakĀ somewhere in a LAMIC and it is not contained properly (due to lack of infrastructure or knowledge/capabilities to do so), it will affect us globally because we are so connected (remember SARS?).

This is why I keep advocating forĀ Public Health – if done properly, will reduce healthcare demands, be it a pandemic or lifestyle diseases. Now I am not saying healthcare is not important (because it is). However, ifĀ you want a career related to health and healthcare because you want to contribute to society / mankind; do consider Public Health as the ROI in this aspect is higher (my opinion).

Next Speaking Slot: PatientCare Asia 2014

My next speaking slot is actually for the ISS Seminar titled “How Analytics is TransformingĀ Healthcare”Ā due next Friday, on the 31 Oct 2014 (one can access the registration pageĀ here) but for this blog post, I am going to share with you my speaking slot after the ISS Seminar.

ScheduledĀ from the 10 – 12 November (Monday – Wednesday), PatientCare Asia will take place at Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition centre.

For PatientCare Asia, I will be delivering a presentation titled “Propelling future care with patient-oriented health informatics” as well moderate a panel titled “Resolving the bottlenecks in greater adoption and ubiquity of ehealth“, both sessions takes place on the 11 November (Tuesday).Ā For the observant, while the title of my presentation is identical to the one I presented at PatientCare Malaysia 2014, rest assured that there will be updates to the presentation contents šŸ™‚

What really piqued my interest for this particular conference (other than the fact that I liked one the organisers did in Malaysia) is the pre-conference workshop byĀ Randall L. Carter of Plantree (For the curious: I don’t know Randall personally).

Titled “From should to could: Patient-centered care as a goal that can be set, measured and attained“, the workshop touches on one of myĀ favourite topic: Patient-Centered Care, which in my humble opinion, a viable care model that not only help achieves the triple-aims but is crucial if one wants to effectively adopt technology to help enable better care (else it would just be one big GIGO exercise).

I am personally looking forward to PatientCare Asia, are you?

Scientists, Mind Your Ethos

This is an interestingĀ piece by Dr. Rebecca TanĀ (an editor ofĀ Asian Scientist) that I thought would be a good read to share withĀ you folks.

What on earth is ethos and why is it important for scientists? Two papers inPNAS shed some light.

The truth is, facts donā€™t speak for themselves.

Far from being just a ā€˜neutralā€™ presentation of information, every scientific paper, conference presentation or lab discussion is actually an argument; the aim is not only to inform, but to persuade.

For example, if I would like you to believe my claim that the new protein I found causes brain cancer, I could do a few experiments to show that patients with brain cancer have elevated levels of this protein, or that mice lacking this protein never develop brain cancer etc. When I publish a paper on my findings though, my purpose isnā€™t just to tell the reader that I have done these five experiments, but is really to convince them that my hypothesis is true.

Scientists are very familiar with this line of reasoning: providing evidence for a claim. However, what most scientists may not realize is that this type of reasoning is not the only option available to them.

Ethos, logos and pathos
Iā€™m referring to Aristotleā€™s framework of ethos, logos and pathos, three different strategies that rhetoricians of old used to persuade their listeners. Of these three, scientists are most comfortable with logos, or the appeal to reason. At the other end of the spectrum, pathosā€”the appeal to emotionā€”is frowned upon in practically all scientific disciplines. But what of ethos?

In rhetoric, ethos is the appeal to a personā€™s character. This might not strike scientists as a valid way to assess research, given that we are used to describing our actions in third person in order to make our claims seem more universal. (ā€œI added solution to the flask.ā€ vs ā€œThe solution was added to the flask.ā€) Furthermore, how can the reader judge my character through a journal article?

But we actually rely on ethos to make decisions all the time. Ethos is not just about whether you are a nice person or not, but whether you are a trustworthy character. In the context of a research paper, ethos can be inferred from the journal in which the study was published and the fame of the institution or individual author; but even something as simple as citing the relevant scientific literature signals to the reader that the author understands the field and knows what he or she is talking about.

Recently, I came across two interesting articles published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that highlight just how important ethos is for scientists.

Peer-facing ethos
The first study, led by Assistant Professor Alexander Michael Petersen from the Institute for Advanced Studies, Lucca, examined the impact of reputation on an academicā€™s career. The researchers found that scientists who had a good reputation among their peers were more likely to be cited, particularly in the first few years after a paper had been published; in effect giving famous scientists ā€œa significant early advantage.ā€ (For those who are interested in the details, they found that a tenfold increase in a quantitatively defined measure of reputation led to a 66 percent increase in a scientistā€™s citation rate.)

In other words, having a good ethos in the eyes of your peers actually influences how well cited you become, a virtuous cycle. Conversely, it could also mean that if your reputation is poor or you are not widely known, your work is not getting the recognition it otherwise might. I believe many Asian scientists are in this position, quietly doing good work but not making the effort to tell anyone about it.

The authors also highlighted that new media are changing the way scientists view each other. Managing your peer-facing ethos these days is not just about being seen and heard at the right conferences, but increasingly involves developing your social media presence and speaking to the press.

Public-facing ethos
Beyond the impact it can have on an individual scientistā€™s career, ethos is also essential for the reputation of the scientific enterprise in the public sphere. As I have mentioned inprevious columns, how the public perceives scientific information has important implications on decisions that affect society as a whole, such as (in)action on climate change.

The next research paper, authored by Professor Susan Fiske and her graduate student Cydney Dupree from Princeton University, investigated how scientists are perceived, vis-Ć -vis other professions. Breaking down communicator credibility into the two components of expertise and trustworthiness, Fiske and Dupree found that scientists were perceived to be competent but cold. This perception, placing scientists in the same ā€œenviedā€ category as CEOs and lawyers, in turn affected the scientistsā€™ ability to communicate the risks of climate change.

Building a career on ethos
What both these studies suggest to me is that scientists need to remember that they are in it for the long haul. Although the publish or perish culture may push people to go for quantity over quality, itā€™s more important to have the long term goal of building your ethos in mind. Admittedly, citation metrics are a frustrating if necessary part of career progression. However, rather than try to ā€œgameā€ the system, it may be more profitable to focus on developing a truly important and interesting research career.

The metrics are blunt, but as these research papers show, they are getting more sophisticated all the time. Perhaps most importantly, human assessmentā€”whether by peers or the publicā€”will ultimately determine how our scientific contributions are remembered.

Note: TheĀ original article (which is complete with diagrams and resource links) is available atĀ Asian Scientist.

Apple’s HealthKit is (finally) here

Exciting times ahead! Apple’s HealthKit is (finally) here! (well,Ā according mHealthNews).

While I’m not going to repeat the entire article here, there is one particular paragraph by MedWhat CEO Arturo Devesa that I think is worth highlighting;

“What the iPod did for the music industry, HealthKit is starting to do for the healthcare industry, affecting the business model and business strategy of health and wellness apps, hospitals, doctors, lab test results companies and health insurance companies,”

I agree withĀ Arturo.

Next Speaking Slot: ISS Seminar – How Analytics is Transforming Healthcare

Healthcare is being transformed through better use of data and analytics. Analytics is the new buzzword in the healthcare industry. The use of analytics can help healthcare providers and payers better predict who is at risk of specific disease conditions as well as educate them on preventive steps they can take. Statistical methods continue to play important roles while new emerging technologies are establishing their reputations in solving complex problems in a timely fashion. The technological shifts allow healthcare providers to analyse large volumes of information quickly so they can identify and take action on their patientsā€™ medical conditions faster and more accurately.

Did the description above catch your attention? If so, do consider joining me at aĀ free seminar titled “How Analytics is Transforming Healthcare”,Ā organised by theĀ Institute of System Science (ISS), part of theĀ National University of Singapore (NUS)Ā on theĀ 31 Oct 2014,Ā 9am – 12pm.

I would be joining 3 other speakers (which includes Dr. Steven Tucker) in the seminar to share how analytics be utilised in a healthcare setting. My topic in particular is titled “Sensible Data Governance to Enable Healthcare Analytics” where I will introduce the basicĀ concepts pertaining to Data Management and Governance in the healthcare setting as well as examining the different levels of interoperability and how it affects the quality of data to be used for Analytics purposes.

What makes this seminar slightly “different”Ā is that it is set in an academic setting, this makes me really eager as it is unleashing the educator in me!