Health Bites

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 9:05am

Net benefit to doctors

The ease of access to online medical information has had a positive overall impact on the relationship between patients and doctors in Hong Kong, finds a survey of more than 100 physicians in the city. Two-thirds of respondents shared this view, in the poll by Ipsos Healthcare and Ruder Finn Asia Health and Wellness released last week. A further 1,000 patients were polled and it was found that only 48 per cent of Hongkongers seek medical information online and 42 per cent self-diagnose - indicating that patients may be sceptical about such information. Three in four doctors say they use the internet to check health information and medications, stay current on industry news and connect with their peers. Eighty-six per cent think online tools help to improve their diagnosis or treatment practice, and 60 per cent say they have changed a diagnosis based on information accessed online.

Don't make app judgments

Smartphone apps can do a lot of things these days, but it's best not to trust them with diagnosing skin cancer. University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers tested four apps that claim to evaluate a user's photographs of skin lesions for the likelihood of cancer, uploading 188 images of skin lesions to each app. They found that three apps incorrectly diagnosed 30 per cent or more melanomas as "unconcerning". Only the app that utilised dermatologists for a personal review of user images, essentially functioning as a tool to facilitate teledermatology, provided a high degree of sensitivity in diagnosis - just one of the 53 melanomas was diagnosed as "benign" by the experts reading the images. This app also was the most expensive, costing users US$5 per image evaluation. The study is published in JAMA Dermatology.

Travellers evade Ebola virus

If you're travelling to the tropics, in particular Western Africa and India, seek pre-travel advice on vaccinations and medications, and while at the destination drink bottled water and take precautions to prevent insect bites. This is the recommendation of an international team of researchers that studied more than 80,000 returned travellers from the tropics who sought medical care for illnesses at GeoSentinal-associated clinics worldwide between June 1996 and August 2011. About 4 per cent of travellers were affected by malaria, typhoid fever and other potentially life-threatening tropical diseases - though not a single traveller contracted the highly contagious and lethal Ebola virus. There were a total of 13 deaths, 10 of which occurred in patients with malaria. Travellers who become ill with fever or flu-like illness while travelling or soon after returning home from high-risk areas should seek immediate medical attention and share their travel history with their physician, cautions one of the researchers, Dr Mogens Jensenius of the University of Oslo.

DNA helps predict cancer return

Medical researchers at the University of Alberta tested the DNA of more than 300 women in Alberta and discovered a "genetic marker" method to help accurately profile which women are more likely to have their breast cancer return years later. Using a simple blood test, a research team led by Professor Sambasivarao Damaraju scanned the entire human genome of 369 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Of those, 155 had their cancer come back and 214 did not. Treatment options for breast cancer patients are based on what doctors know about the tumour itself - its size, grade and the absence or presence of certain markers within the tumour. Damaraju thinks the accuracy of prognosis could be improved by complementing tumour-based markers with the DNA marker. "Treatment strategies could be tailor-made for these women based on their genetic make-up and how susceptible it makes them to breast cancer recurrence," he says. The study was published in PLoS One. A larger study is planned to reconfirm these findings.