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I’ve been really excited to learn more about how the Web and it’s growing focus on community has been impacting the realm of health education. Improving the quality of our lives through peer discussion AND the dissemination of professional information is something we need more of in the health landscape – we need to focus on the people.

And that’s what Healia Communities aims to accomplish.

You’re probably already aware of the health information search engine, Healia – this tool has been around for a while and from what I can tell, has been successful in helping individuals find what they need on topics ranging from mental health to weight management.

The Health 2.0 movement is definitely taking notice that individuals aren’t solely seeking doctors for their medical advice. There are plenty of health professionals who are better trained to actually interact with people on deeper community basis and you can find some of them on Healia Communities. This has always been a concern of mine when it comes to health information being twisted and changed –  causing people to leave thinking about the wrong concepts. Experts are important, but experts that actually respond is essential, good job Healia.

The personalization aspect of being able to join certain groups that are tailored to your health interests make the site even more effective in that you don’t have to look all over the community to find what you want. Interested in finding out how to get your family to lose weight (similar to a question I put up there)? If you are part of the weight management group, you will most likely see this query and be able to quickly respond. You feel better by offering your own sage advice and the person asking the question now walks away with a smile, feeling encouraged. Win-win situation right?

Healia Communities is about what concerns you.

So go ahead and join the conversation and meet people who are concerned about the same things you are. What better issue to be concerned about than your health and the well being of others?

If you want to connect with me, I’m mindofandre in the community. Oh yeah they also blog regularly about diseases and conditions that you probably want to know about.

I know you’re excited to get to the second part of Troy’s interview so I won’t be long.

If you haven’t checked out the first part of the interview, hop on over here to get caught up. The world of prosthetics has played an integral part in helping better the lives of many amputees. Troy is one of the good guys – leading cutting edge research into bettering the health of soliders through technology.

Without further ado, I give you part 2…

Q: Of what you are able to share with us, what sort of advancements do you see on the horizon for this field?

I see a time when people will not be able to tell the difference between someone who is using a prosthetic device, and someone using a biological limb. Think along the lines of the arm used by Del Spooner, the character played by Will Smith in the movie iRobot. I anticipate this same technology being use for lower limbs as well. It may sound strange now, but since the majority of amputations are a result of vascular disease, the use of prosthetic devices may become something of an elective procedure versus a life in a wheelchair or using a walker or cane.

Research we are currently funding includes robotic and powered ankles which will provide for significant improvement in what’s called the gait cycle, or walking. Powered and microcomputer processor controlled knees are already on the market, but are being made more rugged and capable through research funded through TATRC. This will allow people using these devices to utilize them in adverse & extreme environments such as water, mud, sand, etc. The majority of lower limb prosthetic devices are currently what I call “reactionary”. That is, they operate according to gravity and swing force. Prosthetics lower limbs do not currently operate according to user intent, that is, the joints and part of the limb move as the user wishes them to move, for example, rolling your ankle or crossing your legs without using your hands while sitting down. Through currently funded research, it is possible that a lower extremity prosthesis user may be able to control their device(s) exactly as someone controls their biological limbs: through impulses that travel from the brain through the nervous system to the muscles, or actuators.

Interestingly, as these devices become more advanced, and public awareness and attention is heightened, increasing numbers of users chose to not wear what is called a cosmesis, or cosmetic covering that helps disguise their device. Many people are wearing their devices in the open, as if to say “this is me, this is part of who I am.” And I think that’s a good thing. However, for someone who chooses to wear a cosmetic covering, there are numerous ways that covering can look. It can be made to look so much like the limb that was lost that it’s amazing. The wearer can have a tattoo painted on, or they can have the covering made and painted in any design an artist is capable of creating.

Q: How do you feel about the barring of double amputee Oscar Pistorius, from the upcoming Olympic Games?

I can’t speak to any specifics of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Pistorius’ situation, but I do think that the fact that he is capable of being competitive at such a high level is a testament to the prosthetics and orthotics technology being developed for those needing it, but also the spirit and never-quit attitude of many people who face significant daily challenges such as these.

Q: Any other comments?

I’ve yet to meet a military amputee that has ever claimed to be a hero, or anything other than just a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine doing their job.

Most people that do “heroic” things don’t think of them as heroic, whatever the “thing” was, they’ll say that they were just doing what needed to be done, or what they were told to do, or what anyone else would have done. But a hero is also someone that others may look up to for motivation, or as an example.

Hero -noun

1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.

2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act.

Some pro athletes will tell you that they don’t want to be role-models or hero’s, but those people have never understood that it’s not up to them – it’s up to the people that look up to them. Fortunately, most professional athletes are thankful for their gifts and realize how incredibly fortunate they are to be able to “play games” at such a high level. They are great with their fans, and live quiet, mature, responsible lives, and are great role models.

One thing the definition above does not say is that the best heroes are the ones that are humble, that do not seek acknowledgement or attention for themselves of their deeds. Today’s military members show courage and ability everyday. They do what they’re told to do, which requires bravery and nobility – dignity and integrity. Do they act up, get rowdy, cause problems and get in trouble? Of course they do, they’re not perfect. But they are heroes nevertheless, and luckily it’s a label that can’t be self-applied. Those who do their duty with courage, ability, bravery, nobility, and without running, are heroes.

What great insight into what it really means to serve. It has been an absolute pleasure interviewing Troy and getting thoughts on his work and the philosophy behind it. Although peace time is the ideal, with people like Troy helping our soldiers, we can feel a little better during war time. Don’t forget, if you want a regular look inside the mind of Troy, follow him on Twitter!

Do you know someone that is doing great things combining health and technology? Please let me know by sending me an email at mindofandre@gmail.com – I would love to hear about it!

Hi folks! I am super excited to bring to you someone who caught my interest because of his work in a field that exclusively focuses on merging cutting edge technology and the health/well-being of the human body. Troy currently manages the Advanced Prosthetics and Human Performance research portfolio at the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) of the U. S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USMRMC), at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Additionally, he serves as the Deputy Chief of the Knowledge Engineering Group, including TATRC’s Robotic Combat Casualty Extraction and Evacuation program.

This interview contains questions related to his job, his thoughts on the prosthetic industry and what the future may hold for soldiers and civilians alike in the biotechnology field.

Q: What attracted you to the area of prosthetics and particularly for the military?

I worked in the telecommunications field for several years, and at that time had a position with Nortel Networks as an operations manager over the Mid-Atlantic & Great Lakes regions. It was a great job, and I really enjoyed working at Nortel, but it was not long lived as Nortel laid off about 65,000 people in the Spring of 2001. In the Fall of 2001 I was approached by Dr. Gary Gilbert with an invitation to visit with him at the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, MD. At that time I really only knew Gary as another of the hockey dad’s on the mite-age travel ice hockey team that I managed, and on which both of ours sons played. Though I had served in the military from 1985 to 1989, it was in the telecommunications field, and I knew nothing about the medical research field.

The week after September, 11, 2001, I visited with Gary at TATRC. During the visit, I learned about TATRC and their mission, hearing about many of the very cool things TATRC was managing. At the end of the meeting, Gary offered me a job at TATRC. Although I had never worked in any field related to medical research, Gary watched me manage our sons’ hockey team, and decided that if I could keep all those parents herded and headed in the same direction, that I had at least a good bit of the skill needed to succeed in the TATRC world.

A couple of years later I was asked to become involved in standing up, or starting, or new area of research of TATRC in the area of Advanced Prosthetics & Rehabilitation. The way TATRC operates and takes projects from the proposal stage to an awarded project is complicated, creative, and can take a long time to understand. However, the way we needed to do some things in this research portfolio required us to step outside even TATRC’s normal “sandbox.” Many times we were told “you can’t do it that way”, and then we’d go ahead and do it anyway, and it did work. We were working for U.S. military members who had lost limbs in Iraq & Afghanistan, and getting hung up in red tape and bureaucracy was simply not an option.

So that’s how I became involved, but the men and women for whom we work, and the help we’re able to bring to them is what keeps me involved. You will never meet people more motivated and more determined to never quit than those soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marine’s dealing with limb loss. Sure they have bad days along with the good days, but you can’t meet or speak with them and not leave feeling upbeat.

Q: It seems as though the division in which you work uses cutting edge technology on a daily basis for the various arms of the US Military – do you see the technology being used for civilians any time soon?

TATRC doesn’t actually “use” cutting edge medical technology. TATRC awards and manages congressionally appropriated funding intended for advanced technology medical research projects. TATRC manages research for the DoD ranging from Advanced Prosthetics & Human Performance, to Medical Robotics, to Modeling & Simulation, Neuroscience, Tissue Regeneration, and so forth. Much of this can be seen on our website at www.tatrc.org. Information specific to the Advanced Prosthetics and Human Performance portfolio is at http://www.tatrc.org/prosthetics.

The technology being developed through the research projects is being developed not just by leading research universities and institutes, but also by small businesses. In addition to developing advanced and next generation technologies, a primary goal of ours and the performing organization is for the research to result in something that can be commercialized, or provided as an input to another project which will benefit not just members of the military, but civilians around the world. In this field of research, the science and technology crosses the military/civilian boundary so readily since we’re not dealing with an area of research that is specific to the military. I will say though that while this work easily crosses into the civilian realm, some of the technology being developed her will require greater levels of insurance reimbursement before the majority of civilian users will be able to take advantage of them.

Q: What are the most important issues that are being addressed in prosthetics research for military use? Are these in any way similar to issues facing civilian use?

Military-specific issues being addressed in advanced prosthetics research are the use of the device in extreme environments. This means not just the durability of the device, but also the ability of the device to respond, or even predict the activity of the user and be able to adapt instantaneously to that activity. The great thing is that military specific activities are virtually identical to extreme civilian activities. This includes activities such as running, jumping, swimming, diving, snow skiing, water skiing, bicycling, rock climbing, hiking, carrying very heavy loads, driving vehicles of all configurations, and not having to recharge the device every four hours. Providing prosthetic components that can enable this level of activity will allow young amputees to participate and compete, but will also bring capabilities to devices used by less active individuals that will improve their quality of daily living as well as give them back the opportunity to become more active as well.

Q: What is a typical work day like for you?

A typical day? I used to think there was such a thing, now I know there isn’t. There is a constant process of dealing with research proposals. We are always working with researchers in funded projects, helping them improve their studies and development efforts, as well as helping them network with other researchers that may be able to add to the effort. Part of this includes engaging on a national and even international level with relevant associations, academies, and conferences, in order to learn and know the field, what’s hot, what’s not, what the people that work in the trenches of the field think, and most importantly the needs of the users, those who will hopefully benefit from the work research.

…stay tuned for Troy’s thoughts on future advancements and more! Part 2 coming later this week.

(For those who want to peer inside the mind of Troy on a regular basis, you can follow him on Twitter!)

Recently, there was an award ceremony that took place which celebrated and profiled the best startups and web/tech innovations of 2007. The Crunchies – named after the popular TechCrunch website, happened on Friday, January 18th.

Winning for Best New Startup, was a company called iMedix, an online destination that combines the elements of search and a social network to revolutionize the way people find and share health information online.

Tonight, I just signed up for the service to get a better idea of how they operate. Initially, it seems that the sharing facet will make it more of a community than simply a search engine/send email to a friend type of website. I personally think that creating a community in the Health 2.0 world will make a huge difference in how we interact with the information that we do find. Once we get the information, we want to know what others think about it and how it pertains to their lives – as well as our own.

iMedix goes on to mention that they had one thing in mind when creating the site: “the more people use it – the better it gets.

This really gets me motivated to become part of the community. However, another thought that pops into my head is the notion of the wiki and how Wikipedia has come under fire numerous times because of their user-editing process. One thing that I really want to happen with these types of websites is that the content get vetted in a way that random junk isn’t passed around. Sometimes people have different views on what’s healthy and what isn’t – as well as what is correct information found on the Web.

With all that said, I’m happy iMedix and Health 2.0 for that matter, got some spotlight and this can only mean good things for the stuff I’m interested in!

On Sunday, I had the great opportunity to visit the 2008 NBC Health and Fitness Expo at the Convention Center in Washington, DC. This is my third year going (this is the 15th year of the event) to the expo and every time I go, I get blown away at the vendors and the sheer amount of attendees that show up.

According to the NBC 4 website, over 85,000 people showed up to take part in the variety of giveaways, health screenings, and even activities like salsa dancing! The expo was held on Saturday and Sunday but unfortunately I was only able to make the tail end of Sunday – as they say, better late than never right?

As soon as you enter the Washington Convention Center, there were clear signs leading you to the event. When you got to the top of the escalator platform, you got a clear view of what was happening – it was awesome.

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Despite having limited time, I did manage to get around to some great booths. The most interesting exhibit I came across was Mark Marten’s FitClub demo. Mark heads up Pantometrics, a company that develops exercise technology for fitness equipment. As I was walking past his booth, I couldn’t help but notice a young girl on a stationery bike looking at a screen that basically looked like a virtual Tour de France!

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How cool is that?!

I was very impressed and had to stop by and chat with Mark for a few, getting his insight into the product and what motivated him. I’m going to try to get an interview with him so stay tuned for that. This is exactly the kind of innovation that we need to be working on in order to merge together popular technology and the benefit of healthy living!

As the event began to wind down, I got the impression that thousands of people left the facility a little more enlightened about staying healthy and became aware of the different organizations in the area that are devoted to ensuring that it stays that way. Next year I hope to visit the expo on both days and cover more events.

There was an article I found on the NBC 4 website that highlighted a man who said that the event saved his life. Here is a snippet:

…A 61-year-old Maryland man said if not for free medical screenings he received at NBC4’s Health and Fitness Expo about eight years ago, he might have died.

Banjo player Frank Cassel said he knew his health was in jeopardy, but he hadn’t seen a doctor. He went to the Health and Fitness Expo, where medical experts performed a battery of tests for free.

“They found out that all my levels of sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides were all severely elevated,” Cassel said…Cassel was diagnosed with uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes. That diagnosis prompted him to make some major changes in his life, like eating healthier to control his diabetes and starting a regular exercise program. Now his blood sugar is under control and his cholesterol is down.

“If I hadn’t gone to the Health Expo and gotten tested, it’s very possible I would have died,” he said. Cassel was so thankful for the Expo that he wrote a song about it…

Amazing. One of the things I was taught while learning about Community Health in college (and that I still hold onto), is that even the smallest success in someone’s life is a huge victory. And as we all know the world is getting smaller, each victory has the potential to spread into larger victories through word of mouth. What if Mr. Cassel decided to sing the praises of the Expo to his family and friends (as you can see, he DID write a song about the event!)? What if they decided to check the Expo out next year or better yet, decided to make some changes in their own lifestyle to promote better health?

Kudos to you NBC and to the rest of you deciding to make small steps to better yourselves.

It’s never too late to start.

*see more pictures from the event here

Remember when computers were really clunky objects that you only knew existed in your classroom (5th grade for me)? I mean, I knew at that young age that I wanted to get involved somehow with technology. Ah yes…I remember now…hours upon hours of time spent playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and and [insert inappropriately excited voice here] the original Space Quest series! Oh, oh, but we CERTAINLY cannot leave out one of the greatest early games of all time….OREGON TRAIL!! That’s right folks…Aunt Martha just got dysentery after drinking river water. Ah yes, good times.

Well fortunately for us, time has zoomed by and we now have great personal computers that have gone into our homes and then everywhere we go – the undisputed mobile technology culture is in full swing! Which brings me to the recent news of a Taiwanese computer company that just produced their Eee PC. The Eee PC is small in dimension and just looking at it makes you wonder if it’s a toy or actual computing device!

asus-eee-pc-005-550x413.jpgBut for any practical purposes, this is a great step forward for devices that can be set up in the classroom (came back full circle!). From the CNET site where I saw the news, one of the pictures shows a group of young students huddled around an area where there are a few of these Eee PC. Is it a coincidence that young kids are drawn to this? With computing technology getting smaller and smaller, it becomes an automatic draw to children and teens. Portability is the theme of today. Who has time to sit at home in order to communicate or send emails? I rather send that when I’m shopping at Target…err, Banana Republic.

From CNET:

At the U.S. launch of the Eee PC, plenty of school children were on hand to test out the tiny kid-friendly laptop. The Linux-based computer has an entirely graphical interface, a short boot-up time, a solid-state drive, and a variety of educational applications and games intended to grab kids’ attention.

Bottom line is, with these technologies coming out that allow for internet access and other computing abilities in such a compact manner – how can this translate into benefits for the public health and education world? Portability should be the best thing going for health education! Think about it, one of the main issues with health education is getting into places that need help the most and just spreading the word – with portable devices, we can show people and carry on presentations on the fly! The possibilities are becoming even more endless.

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So a few weeks ago, one of the creative geniuses at the company I work for wrote on healthcare in the digital world, including a mention of a conference called Health 2.0. We know that Web 2.0 refers to the user-generated explosion on the Internet and all the conversations that abound – however, how is health incorporated into that stuff? Well, according to the Health 2.0 conference website:

Social networks are redefining relationships within communities in unanticipated and previously unimaginable ways. Web 2.0 tools – like blogs, wikis, podcasts, user-generated video and specialized search – are generating a fundamental shift away from the traditional flow of information as defined by payers, physicians, hospital systems, and suppliers. It is absolutely clear that we are at the start of a significant shift in demand from both consumers and providers for better information and easier ways to share experiences.

Stakeholders in health care must immediately begin to confront the decision of how to interact with these new technologies and networks, and potentially adopt and integrate them into their strategies for growth.

This is a great thing happening – allowing conversation around a very monolithic institution that most people either don’t understand properly or don’t want to understand (with all the negative press, who can blame them?). It was only a matter of time. The age of patient/consumer and health provider confusion is slowly coming to a close. Finally there will be conversation between health care provider and patient, patients with each other, physician to physician! I can only imagine what wealth of information and insight will come about for stakeholders in health care.

Oh yeah, the conference also has a Facebook group that I just joined. This is just plain awesome. Even though I missed this year’s conference, I’m hoping to make the March conference next year.

Web 2.0, meet the struggling and needy world of healthcare…don’t be shy!

*cue Chariots of Fire as the two entities run toward each other in slow motion while in a grassy field*

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