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UK Unemployment falls to 7 year low

The UK unemployment rate fell to a seven-year low of 5.3% in the three months to September, new figures show.

It was the lowest jobless rate since the second quarter of 2008, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The number of people out of work fell by 103,000 between July and September to 1.75 million.

There were 31.21 million people in work, 177,000 more than for the April-to-June quarter and 419,000 more than in the same period a year earlier.

‘Strengthening trend’

ONS statistician Nick Palmer said: “These figures continue the recent strengthening trend in the labour market, with a new record high in the employment rate and the unemployment rate still at its lowest level since spring 2008.”

The ONS also said the total earnings of workers, including bonuses, in the three months to September were up 3% from a year earlier, the same rate as in the three months to August.

In September, total wages rose by 2.0%, down from 3.2% the previous month and the weakest increase since February.

Excluding bonuses, average weekly earnings growth slowed to 2.5% in the third quarter and 1.9% in September, both the weakest since the first quarter of 2015.

Chris Williamson, chief economist at research firm Markit, said: “The UK labour market continued to tighten in September, as unemployment fell more than expected and employment rose sharply. Pay growth remained surprisingly weak, however, despite further evidence of growing skill shortages, which normally leads to higher salaries.

“Pay growth remains central to policymaking, and interest rates are likely to stay on hold for as the official data show pay growth remaining subdued. Today’s data therefore support the Bank’s current projections that there will be no need to raise interest rates until 2017 due to persistent low inflation.”

‘Softer pace’

It comes after the latest Bank of England inflation report, released last week, indicated it was unlikely to raise rates soon.

The Bank voted 8-1 to keep rates on hold, and said inflation was only expected to pick up slowly, staying below 1% until the second half of 2016.

Following the latest jobs figures, Martin Beck, senior economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club said: “Looking ahead, with less room for joblessness to fall, a slower rate of decline in unemployment seems likely.

“Moreover, a recovery in productivity also points to a softer pace of job creation as firms extract more output from existing workforces. That said, the same trend will give firms the resources to pay more.”

Economically inactive

Meanwhile, the ONS said that the claimant count increased for the third month in a row, up by 3,300 in October to 795,500. That figure counts people on Jobseeker’s Allowance and those on the out-of-work element of Universal Credit.

The number of people classed as economically inactive fell by 22,000, to just under nine million in the latest period, the lowest for more than a year.

These include students, those on long-term sick leave, people looking after a relative and those who are no longer looking for work.

In the same labour market statistics report, the ONS revealed that the number of EU nationals working in the UK had increased by 324,000 in the past 12 months.

The Best Medical Technologies of 2014

by EDITORS on Dec 31, 2014 • 1:29 pm

Medgadget has been around for a good ten years now, covering the developments in medical technology better than anyone else. There is no other news source that’s as obsessively focused on reporting the technological developments that are changing clinical practice and patient care. Looking back on the past year of our coverage, we’d like to share what new trends and which new medical gadgetry we have found most exciting, revolutionary, and beneficial for patients in 2014.

Flexible Microelectronics

Flexible electronics are able to wrap around irregular tissue shapes and conform to their motion in order to sense, and one day even respond, to different physiological parameters. A number of teams around the world are working on this technology and it will soon find its way into our bodies. Fear not though, being a cyborg will be a healthy and painless experience.

On that note, Google announced it’s working on a glucose sensing contact lens for diabetics to be able to get readings without having to prick their fingers for blood. The idea is that the lens will transmit glucose level readings sampled from tear fluid directly to a smartphone for review anywhere and at any time.

flexible-electronics-heart

John A. Rogers of University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, a leading scientist in the field of flexible electronics, partnered with a team from Washington University in St. Louis to create a flexible electronic sleeve that was wrapped around a beating heart of a rabbit to monitor its electrical activity in 3D at an unprecedented resolution. This development may soon lead to heart wraps that can sense and respond to arrhythmias in a highly precise manner and if the power to compress is added to the wrap you may even have an automatic cardiac augmentation device as well.

Professor Rogers is also behind a flexible skin patch that can record ECG and EEG signalsand pass those wirelessly to a smartphone or other device.

3D Printing in Medicine

South Sudanese team 3D printing prosthetic arms for victims of war as part of Project Daniel.

3D printing has captured the popular imagination lately, but in the last year we’ve seen it used in medicine to help replace bones, bring prosthetic devices to people in war-torn regions, and even help in preparing for surgeries.

Some of our favorite stories include Project Daniel in South Sudan and a similar project by the University of Toronto and Autodesk Research in Uganda that allows local people to create prosthetic arms using 3D printers. Not having to rely on expensive devices and outside expertise, trained teams of local engineers are able to provide custom prostheses to those touched by war. Even where peace has reigned, high school students are able to print prosthetic arms for their neighbors.

3d-printed-skull

Custom printed skull implanted at University Medical Center Utrecht in The Netherlands.

Some of the more radical uses of 3D printing technology include a woman in Holland who received a brand new skull and a man in the United Kingdom had his face reconstructed following an accident with the help of 3D printed components. Additionally, one-to-one replica skulls are being created from patient CT scans to prepare surgeons for challenging facial transplant procedures.

In China we saw printed titanium vertebral implants successfully used to address uncommon orthopedic conditions and to conform to unusual patient anatomies, while at the University of Michigan a tracheal splint to save a baby’s life was printed and implanted in a groundbreaking procedure.

Still in pre-clinicial trials, but foreshadowing what we might see very soon in human patients, a drove of sheep successfully received printed meniscus replacements in their knees.

Smart Powered Prostheses

A man with both arms missing due to an accident received two highly articulating powered prosthetic arms at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory that he is able to control with his mind. Electrodes were connected from his stumps to the new arms that pass through a computer for interpretation. After a bit of practice, the man was able to do some pretty complex tasks. Though the system is still in development, it’s a sure sign that future amputees won’t be so dependent on others and will be able to regain their own abilities thanks to technology such as this.

prosthetic hand with tactile sensors on the fingertips that lets its user actually feel what it’s touching. The first experimental user of the hand, who had electrodes placed within his remaining arm that passed on the tactile signals, was able to tell how hard he was gripping objects and what shape they were, even while blindfolded.

quadriplegic man was able to move his arm thanks to Neurobridge technology developed by an R&D nonprofit called Battelle. The group developed a chip that’s implanted into the brain’s region responsible for hand motion, which is able to read the electrical signals and transmit them, decoded, to a powered prosthetic arm. The man is now able to rotate his hand, make a fist, and pinch his fingers together, all intuitively as though it’s his native arm.

XStat Rapid Hemostasis System

Xstat-gunshot-wound-system

Lead poisoning can come in different forms, and if your patient is severely bleeding, whether on the battlefield or in an ambulance, gauzes and external pressure may not be enough. The XStat device was unveiled this year to quickly stop deep bleeding woundsby injecting a bunch of tablet-sized pellets that quickly expand and fill the wound space.

It’s as easy to use as a syringe, allowing for reliable hemostasis in seconds without having to carefully stuff the wound site with gauze when time is of the essence. To help remove the expanded pellets once the patient reaches the hospital, each of the pellets contains a radiopaque marker to quickly spot them under X-ray.

Diabetes Monitoring/Glucose Control

In the flexible electronics section above, we already mentioned the glucose sensing contact lens that Google is working on. In the meantime, diabetics still have to have their fingers pricked on a daily basis. That’s why there’s now the Genteel lancing device that promises nearly pain-free pricks anywhere on the body. It creates a vacuum around the sampling site, vibrates the spot, and pierces the skin within .018 of a second.

Perhaps pin pricks may not be necessary after all, thanks to a laser-based glucometer being developed at Princeton University. The device uses mid-infrared light to look into the dermal interstitial fluid that correlates with glucose within the blood.

artificial-pancreas

Beta-O2, an Israeli company that recently came out of stealth mode, has developed a bio-artificial pancreas that is already going to clinical trials at the Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden. The  ßAir device is essentially a bioreactor that contains islets of Langerhans, cells that produce insulin and glucagon, functioning much like a healthy pancreas would, but in a radically different form factor.

Before we see a reliable artificial pancreas, we already have devices that in some ways mimic the functionality of a pancreas. A fairly big development for diabetics is theFDA approval of the Animas Vibe insulin pump that pairs up with the Dexcom G4 PLATINUM continuous glucose monitor. The two devices partner to keep glucose levels under control, and thanks to DEXCOM’s trending capabilities, the system can proactively respond to help keep blood glucose within range.

Radiological Imaging Equipment: The Big Stuff

At the University Medical Center Utrecht in The Netherlands, a room is being built that will house a clinical linear accelerator and a 1.5 Tesla MRI machine. The never-before-seen combination will permit interventional radiologists to visualize and target tumors in the same session. This will hopefully allow for much more accurate tumor treatment since the imaging and therapy can be performed at the same time and while the patient is in the same position during both procedures.

signa-pioneer

GE unveiled the GE SIGNA Pioneer, a 3.0 T MRI machine that drastically reduces imaging times, often by up to 2/3. Additionally, the scanner includes an upgraded version of the company’s SilentScan technology that, as the name implies, brings much needed quiet to the MR imaging suite.

Siemens unveiled a new SOMATOM Definition Edge CT scanner that is able to perform dual-energy imaging using a single-source X-ray tube. Previous single-source CT systems relied on fast kV-switching for dual-energy imaging, which may impair image quality and increase radiation dose. Siemens’ TwinBeam technique allows simultaneous acquisition of high and low kV datasets in a single CT scan.

If you’re getting a CT scan, you’ll be happy to know that it can also provide bone mineral density values without having to get a separate exam. The MindwaysCT software can do this from just about any contrast-free abdominal or pelvic CT scan, even from a virtual colonoscopy.

Ambulance Drone

When a serious cardiac arrhythmia strikes, a defibrillator is often the only thing preventing the death of the patient. Yet, automatic external defibrillators (AED) are still a rare sight in most places and getting one to the patient must be done in a matter of minutes. A student at TU Delft University in Holland developed a flying drone that has an AED built-in. The drone, still a prototype, would be controlled by emergency responsders to get to the patient at which point anyone able to help can quickly access the electrode pads, prep the patient, and begin defibrillating in seconds.

Medtronic Micra, World’s Smallest Pacemaker

micra-in-heart

At the end of last year, Medtronic introduced its Micra pacemaker that actually sits inside the ventricular cavity and doesn’t have any leads that are often the cause of pacemaker complications. Now it’s pacing actual patients after initial implants have been installed.

It’s implanted in an entirely minimally invasive fashion, delivered to the heart via the femoral vein and made to grab onto the endocardial tissue with built-in metal grippers.

The hope is that such devices, thanks to their small size and nature of implantation, will lead to easier surgeries and better outcomes for patients without having to undergo revisions caused by poorly positioned or dysfunctional leads.

And that’s a wrap for 2014, which has been an exciting year for medical technologies. We’d like to thank you for being our readers for 10 years and look forward to new medical technologies coming next year. In the meantime, a Happy New Year. Be safe, healthy, and keep on reading!

Call for rethink of ‘flawed’ NHS plan to cut inappropriate learning disability placements

An NHS England-commissioned steering group tasked with cutting inappropriate learning disability hospital placements will fail unless it rethinks its priorities, experts have warned.

The Ideas Collective, an informal network of learning disability experts including carers and professionals (see box), said that the NHS group’s plan to develop a ‘closure’ programme for assessment and treatment units and related hospital settings placed insufficient focus on tackling the factors underpinning demand for beds, particularly poor support from community health and social care services. The collective was also critical of the fact the steering group membership only includes one person with a learning disability and one carer.

The NHS England group, chaired by Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of ACEVO, was set up in light of the failure to meet the government’s target to end inappropriate placements by 1 June, made in response to the Winterbourne View abuse scandal. About 2,500 people with learning disabilities or autism and additional mental health needs remain in hospitals in England, with just one-third of these due to move out within the next year.

NHS England published terms of reference for the group this week and revealed that it will be advised by a service user and carer reference group. At a meeting with members of the Ideas Collective, Bubb reportedly said that his steering group had four ‘core objectives’: the inpatient unit closure programme; the development of a ‘sensible commissioning framework’; a workforce development programme and a social capital programme for investment in community services.

In a letter to Bubb, the Ideas Collective said that the inpatient unit closure programme and social capital programme plans were “flawed”, particularly givenprevious statements that suggested the social capital programme would be used to fund “group homes and long-term provider contracts.” The collective also questioned how the commissioning framework could be effective if the NHS group “have been given no authority” over local authority commissioning.

In its letter, the collective told Bubb that his group had the “potential to achieve real change” if it revised its plans but warned: “If your group continues with the focus and priorities previously stated, then we fear that another opportunity will have been wasted and any change will merely be superficial and short-term – leaving other people with learning disabilities and families to bear the consequences in the years to come.”

On the ‘closure programme’ the collective said that the focus on closing units should be replaced by a wider project aimed at significantly reducing the number of assessment and treatment beds while recognising a small number will be needed in each area. This should involve ‘hands-on’ support for local authority and NHS commissioners, person centred design for all people currently in placements, and the creation of levers to require commissioners to follow best practice, the letter said.

“Demand has to be addressed and simply closing beds and moving people elsewhere will create a bottled up problem elsewhere in the system….If people are simply moved out of them without action to also reduce demand, the places will be immediately filled by new people who are being failed by local services,” the letter said.

Dame Philippa Russell, one of the letter’s signatories and parent of a son with a learning disability, said a comprehensive demand prevention programme was needed.

“Importantly we must find a better way of transferring resources currently locked into regional specialist commissioning back into the local authorities who will have the main responsibility for reintegration into families and communities,” she said.

“I see a real opportunity in the introduction of independent personalised commissioning, integrating both health and social care budgets and designing care and support around and with people. Without individualised and integrated care planning, families will again fail and people with learning disabilities will continue to be at risk of ‘exile’ to distant emergency services from which a constructive return will be difficult, if not impossible.”

The NHS England steering group, which will report its findings by the end of October, has triggered fierce debate since it was first announced last month. Learning disability activists expressed anger after a blog post by Bubb announcing the group suggested that plans had been drawn up by sector leaders behind closed doors without the involvement of users and carers. NHS England has moved to quell those concerns and insist families and users will be involved in the group.

An NHS England spokesperson said: “NHS England thanks the Ideas Collective for their letter and ideas, many of which we are already working on and we will be considering all the issues raised. We are working closely with people with Learning Disabilities, partners and stakeholders and will be publishing the steering group’s terms of reference, agendas and minutes on the NHS England website.”

 

Why Brands Can’t Afford to Ignore Twitter

3d4060fBy now you’ve probably heard about Twitter’s slowing user growth, a statistic that many social media naysayers were keen to jump on (though not as loudly as they’ve done in the past with stats that may or may not indicate the demise of social media). Twitter announced the slow down in their most recent company report, noting they’re implementing strategies to get user growth back on track. The interesting thing is, when you actually look at the numbers, that user growth slowdown may not be as bad as many have perceived, based on the headlines and stock decline.

A recent Forbes piece detailed Twitter’s growth problem, showing that user growth had dropped almost 20% from 2012 to 2013. The figures indicate that Twitter had 140.3 million users in 2012, which increased to 182.9 million the following year. While the growth rate itself has slowed, those growth numbers are still pretty solid. In more broken down terms, it means Twitter added almost 117,000 new users, every day, in 2013. That’s nothing to sneeze at – even if you were to take the worst case approach and assume that 50% of new accounts created were actually fake accounts being created by click farms, that’s still almost 60,000 new, real users, signing up every single day.

While the declining growth rate has spooked some investors, a more important aspect to consider is the rising use of Twitter as a business tool. Everyday, more businesses are accepting the fact that they need to utilise social media – the next generation of consumers are already there, and they expect brands to be listening. To not be active on social will eventually be akin to not existing at all for many in the marketplace. That may seem far-fetched, unfeasible that social media will become such an integral part of business life, but when you consider the reliance people place on social media for their day-to-day interactions, the trend of consumers moving towards online processes for all their media consumption and purchasing behaviours. When you think of the state of social media now, and what it will be in ten years time – it’s hard to imagine any brand is going to get much attention without having an active social media presence. If that’s where your customers are at, that’s where you need to be. Next time you’re out in a public space, look at how many people are staring down at their smartphone screens. Think about how much our interactions have changed in the last decade. The adaptation of technology is happening at an increasingly rapid rate, to ignore it is simply not an option.

Twitter’s user growth may ease, but that doesn’t mean it’s not being utilised. The company’s revenue is increasing, and they’ve detailed plans to focus on user growth in areas outside of the US – one the company’s growth issues is that most people in the US have already given it a shot, which, inevitably, means growth will slow. If Twitter can expand in India and the Asia Pacific region – or China, where it’s still blocked – that user growth figure will change dramatically. More importantly, Twitter remains thesecond most popular social network for people aged 35 and below. As younger generations grow up with Twitter, more of them are conducting more of their daily interactions on the platform. Those conversations, that data they’re sharing, is of massive value for brands – if you’re not tuning in by now, you should be, at the least, to be aware of what’s being said.

There are huge opportunities for brands on Twitter. With Facebook changing the game via algorithm shifts and Google+ failing to catch on, it remains one of the most important and powerful information sources for business. Twitter’s data is also out in the open – no other platform has opened it’s API as much, making it a great source for tracking sentiment and connecting with potential customers. Some people still don’t get ‘the tweets’, ‘what can you say in 140 characters?’ But those that spend time with it will find it an invaluable resource, one that no brand can afford to ignore.

If you’re not active on Twitter yet, it’s time you gave it a chance. If you’re a brand, set up keyword monitoring and see what’s being said. If you’re an individual, start checking in on it in the morning and see what’s coming through. Because really, if you’re ignoring Twitter now, the question is no longer ‘if’ you’ll change your mind. Realistically, it’s only a matter of ‘when’.

Students’ sexual and mental health services hit by cuts

Doctors warn the Health Secretary that closure of university GP practices puts a generation at risk

Students and doctors have warned the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, that he risks “failing an entire generation”, as university GP practices attempt to cope with funding cuts which they say threaten to shut down surgeries and wipe out vital sexual and mental health services for students.

p2huntPA

Several specialist student practices have been disproportionately hit by changes to GP funding, which doctors say has “pulled away the safety net” for surgeries.

The Government began withdrawing the so-called minimum practice income guarantee (MPIG) in April. This is a serious blow for student GP practices, which are already penalised because the bulk of GP funding is now channelled towards elderly patients.

In a letter to the Health Secretary, the Student Health Association, which represents specialists in student healthcare, told Mr Hunt that there is “a real risk of practices going under and no longer being able to provide their expert care to their young adult patients”.

Their concerns centre on recent changes to the complex system of national funding for GPs. Student practices have historically suffered because funding allocations are largely linked to meeting targets for the treatment of specific conditions which are most prevalent in the elderly. More recently, specific funding for some conditions common among students, such as eating disorders, was cut.

However, until this year, much of this discrepancy was compensated for by the MPIG – a parachute fund introduced when many of the present funding arrangements were introduced in 2004. The MPIG was designed to enable practices that lost out under the new arrangements to maintain historic levels of funding.

Now the MPIG is being withdrawn, gradually over the next seven years. The Government argues that the money should be more evenly distributed across the GP sector, but around 100 practices have declared that they face closure without it.

The practices in trouble are, in almost all cases, those with atypical patient populations, which lose out under the “one-size-fits-all” funding formula: university practices, but also those serving inner-city populations or remote rural practices with small numbers of patients.

Dr Michele Wall, a senior partner at the Rowhedge Medical Practice near Colchester, which operates both a village surgery and a specialist student practice serving 8,500 patients at the University of Essex, said that the surgery would lose 30 per cent of its funding over the next seven years.

The cuts will result in specialist services including sexual health clinics and immunisations for students falling by the wayside, with the practice facing the potential loss of two of its five doctors.

“The Government is rationing care,” she told The Independent on Sunday. “If they’re not funding it properly, then there is no other word for it – they’re rationing it. University practices across the board are going to suffer. Students have significant needs, particularly in sexual and mental health.”

She said that while an average GP surgery received roughly £80 per patient, the complexities of the GP funding structure meant that a practice which served an exclusively student population would get only around £47 per patient – and would therefore be highly dependent on MPIG money.

Dr Dominique Thompson, the director of services at the University of Bristol Students’ Health Service and a GP in Bristol, said that funding for the treatment of mental health conditions common in student populations – including anxiety and panic disorder, social phobia and borderline personality disorder – was inadequate.

“One in four, at least, of student GP health consultations is for mental health,” she said. “I’m very worried that there’s an entire generation here coming through with all these, and the practices that have been looking after them are just not going to be funded to do it … they’re taking away the safety net, with the phrase, ‘we will have to adjust gradually’… really, that’s a euphemism for, ‘you’ll have to close’.”

Colum McGuire, vice-president for welfare at the National Union of Students, said that the NUS was “extremely worried” about the situation.

“On campus, medical surgeries are vital for student wellbeing, especially for mental health support during what can be a challenging time for many young people,” he said. “It is unacceptable for the Government to overlook the health needs of students and we need immediate action to make sure that they aren’t failed because of funding cuts.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said the Government was committed to student access to “high-quality GP services” and said the NHS will be “supporting the most affected practices” to “adjust” as MPIG payments are phased out over seven years.

NHS England has said it will “support” practices affected by the MPIG withdrawal, but GP leaders including Dr Thompson have said that little concrete financial backing is being offered.

GO NAKED REVEALING THE SECRETS OF SUCCESSFUL SELLING – MASTER CLASS

Great blog by Michael Smith (Twitter: @Smith_Michaelj) on the secrets of successful selling.

Things have changed.

There is so much choice and information out there today for buyers, that when we sit down with someone with a view of selling – selling us, our product, our services or our organisation, that threethings are clear.

Firstlywe are already one of a great many alternatives which exist in the marketplace. And in today’s culture that greater choice means less tolerance for the average or the mediocre. Why settle for middle-of-the-road, when you can switch the person or company you buy from with little or no impact?

Secondly, there is so much readily available information out there, that a proactive and well-informed purchaser has the potential to know as much about what we’re selling as we do. In fact they may already have decided whether the particular product or service is something that’s going to be right for them.

Thirdly, purchasers want more. Because in the new economy, there is greater demand for quantity, quality and responsiveness. In other words we want more, better and quicker. The fallacy which exists is that people are only looking for ‘cheaper’. But they’re not. Sure, sometimes we’ll make our decision, or certainly part of the decision, based on price. But it won’t always be the primary driver in choice – in fact it’s rarely the case. Rather people want more, better and quicker. And if it only comes down to price, it means that there isn’t enough of the other stuff to separate one offer from the next best alternative.

So where does that leave us?

Time to hand in our car keys and instead resign ourselves to a life as a virtual sales person or sales manager, fighting with the masses in a race to the bottom, constantly looking over our shoulder to see whether we’ll be replaced with a cheaper version in an ever declining cost structure?

I don’t think so.

Life is a contact sport. Business is a contact sport. And it’s people and the strength of the relationships with people which will determine the extent to which we can be successful.

Following the successful international launch of my first book, GO NAKED: Revealing The Secrets Of Successful Selling, I’m holding two one day workshops which will give greater depth to the concepts in the book and also answer the points above.

In this workshop, you’re going to:

  • Find out why so many people fall into ‘the crowd’ and why they will continue to get average results
  • Understand what the most successful sales people do differently from the rest
  • Learn about the seven principles of successful selling and how you can start to apply them immediately
  • Understand how you can sell more authentically – demonstrating more of the ‘real you’
  • How you can start increasing your chances of success from the time your leave the workshop
  • Identify the single biggest thing which is holding you back and decide what you’re going to do about it

To see what people are saying about the book, you can take a look at the reviews here.

I’m going to run two UK workshops in September. One will be in London on 18th September and the second will be the following day in Leeds on 19th September.

There will only be 10 places available on each in order that it’s the most impactful and interactive experience possible, so please only sign up if you’re serious and willing to participate wholly.

The workshops will run from 10am until 4pm to allow ample opportunity for same-day travel with a couple of breaks over the day. The investment for the workshop is £299 which includes VAT, refreshments and materials.

If you’d like to book your ticket for the London event you can do so by clicking here.

If you’d like to book your ticket for the Leeds event you can do so by clicking here.

So don’t wait, click either the London or the Leeds event, and book your place now.

I look forward to seeing you in September.

Best wishes

Michael

Look after your employees and prosper!

Did you know that around 131 million working days are lost through sickness absence in the UK every year? Making even a small investment into the health and wellbeing of your staff can have a substantial impact by not only reducing sickness absence, but also by boosting productivity and positivity in the office.

It makes perfect sense that happy, healthy staff are less likely to take time off sick or ultimately less likely to look for another job – so why not do something positive for your employees today to make them feel valued? To start with, you could look at something as simple as arranging a fruit delivery. A piece of fruit can give a mid-morning energy boost and spark positive discussions in and out of the office.

Employee benefit company Benefex have recently started receiving weekly Fruitdrop boxes and announce each delivery with an entertaining internal email. The staff at their Southampton office were rather shocked to learn that banana pasta was once a popular dish in Italy, but hey, they never said that all the facts were true…

That’s just for starters though – (or elevenses) – another great way to encourage employees to look after their health and wellbeing is through a flexible benefits scheme. A scheme (like the ones implemented by Benefex) can include as many benefits as you require, covering everything from dental insurance to relaxing spa days.

One of the most popular employee benefits out there, which has a great record of improving general health and wellbeing, is the ‘Cycle to Work’ initiative. With a high take up amongst keen cyclists and a fantastic way to get budding health enthusiasts on a bike, Cycle to Work schemes have a hugely positive impact on sickness rates and alertness in the office.

Of course, wellbeing is about more than just physical health and it doesn’t have to be costly. There are plenty of little things you can do to give staff morale a boost, such as a well-equipped kitchen to prepare lunch andhaving milk on hand for not only tea and coffee during the day, but to have with morning cereal too.

Another great idea is to get staff involved in organising events or themed office days. You could set up a Social Committee and use a suggestion box to monitor feedback. Above all, always remember that communication is key – no one will know what a great employer you are unless you tell them!

Should I Be Getting Health Information From Wikipedia?

According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, one in three Americans have, at some point, taken to the Internet to try to diagnose a medical condition (for themselves or others), and 72 percent of Internet users have looked more generally for health information online in the past year. Since Wikipedia is the sixth-largest website in the world, it comprises a good deal of the health information readily available online, but being editable by anyone means that the quality of information available isn’t always up to snuff. We are a culture of Googlers, though, and it’s unreasonable to expect someone to go to a doctor every time they have a medical question.

Through Wikiproject Medicine, some medical professionals (and other health-savvy Wikipedia editors) have taken it upon themselves to improve the quality of medical information available on the site. And, in the same spirit, the University of California, San Francisco will be offering a class this year that gives fourth-year medical students course credit in exchange for editing Wikipedia articles. I spoke with Dr. Amin Azzam, a health sciences associate clinical professor at UCSF, who will be teaching the course, about how it will be run, and the impact that Wikipedia has on public health.

What gave you the idea to offer this class?

As is often the case, good ideas come from our students. One of my students who I’d been working with for [more than] a year introduced the idea of editing Wikipedia when he was a medical student. I have to admit that at the beginning I was quite skeptical, especially because I think a lot of us in the medical profession have looked at Wikipedia rather skeptically as an inaccurate source of information. So when Mike Turken first talked with me about the idea I, like many, said “Hogwash. There’s no way Wikipedia is going to be a reliable source of information.” As we talked about it, I tried to keep an open mind to the notion that our students actually are fully capable of contributing to Wikipedia and correcting errors that exist there. So based on those discussions, he suggested, and I supported, having a week of Wikipedia-related events. We invited some speakers to come and talk about the concept of editing Wikipedia’s medical content. That’s really where I got greater exposure to what Wikipedia can be in the medical realm. So our students are leading the way in helping us understand how to evolve in this landscape. I’m thrilled to be in a position to be able to help push ideas that our students have and push innovation, so that our medical schools can be responsive to our societal charge, which is really to improve the health of all patients and train the next generation of physician leaders to do that as well.

How is the class going to be structured?

To answer that, I think it’s important to understand the general structure of fourth-year medical students’ academic year. The third and fourth years of medical school are referred to as the clerkship curriculum, and occur predominantly in the hospital and clinical settings. The final year of medical school is often very elective-based in that medical students can select what types of additional training experiences they want before they finish medical school. So a lot of the structure is month-long rotations, as they’re called; this elective is based on that structure. It will occur from mid-November to mid-December. We chose that month specifically because it’s the time of year when fourth-year medical students across the country are all interviewing for the next stage of their professional development, or their residencies, and so we wanted it to be a travel-friendly elective. Since so little of their time with me needs to be face-to-face, it seemed a logical opportunity for our students to be interviewing for residencies and concurrently doing this work—getting academic credit for editing Wikipedia—while they’re on a plane or in another city interviewing.

How are you going to measure credit? What are the main goals of the course?

This is all part of the larger education initiative at Wikipedia. I want to be clear that I’m not particularly innovative in asking my students to be editing Wikipedia. There have been something like 100 classrooms [attempting such] an assignment each semester throughout the U.S. and Canada. Ours just happens to be the first medical school course for this kind of credit.

But basically, the Wikipedia education initiative encourages faculty and educational assistants to think about [the fact that] our students are using Wikipedia anyway. Let’s not fight it. Let’s get out of this academic ivory tower. So realizing that, I thought, “Okay, let’s think about how Wikipedia deals with medical topics.” Wikipedia has this Wikiproject Medicine,  and the folks that have been involved with that long before I was around have looked the most highly-trafficked [medical] pages on Wikipedia. They defined highly-trafficked based on unique number of visitors, as well as unique number of hits. Looking at the top 80 to 100 topics, they said, “There are something close to 15,000 to 20,000 hits per day on some of these topics; why don’t we tackle the most-trafficked topics first, to try to improve the quality or rigor of the articles?”

In the Wikiproject Medicine volunteer community, there is a rating scale for all the articles—and I think this may be true across all of Wikipedia. Articles start with what is called a stub of an article. As more information is added to the Wikipedia page, it moves to what’s called the start of an article, and it moves from that to a C quality article, and then a B quality article, then they skip the letter “A” and move to what is called a “good” article. The highest scale is a featured article. When you look at [the quality of the articles], the fraction of high-quality information on Wikipedia in the medicine-related topics is significantly lower than other domains of Wikipedia. I think a large part of that is because we in the medicine community have not been embracing this model of democratized information. But when you realize that this is where all the world goes for information first, I think we’re missing an opportunity. Why don’t we contribute to improving the quality of information that the public has access to, and that the public goes to? So that’s why I became passionate about this model. I started realizing that this was a much bigger way to make a much bigger impact on public health.

So the editing that your students do is going to be part of Wikiproject Medicine?

That’s right. Wikiproject Medicine has defined the Top 100 articles. And I think it behooves us to start with those articles. A different model would be to say, ‘Hey, beloved students, pick whatever thing you’re passionate about and just make it better on Wikipedia.’ But I think we have an opportunity to start big and go with the more impactful stuff. That’s not to say that other medical topics aren’t important, there’s just fewer people going to Wikipedia for them. In other words, even the easy stuff on Wikipedia hasn’t been done yet in the medicine-related topics.

Anybody who is interested in improving the quality of medicine-related topics on Wikipedia is welcome to edit. You can edit Wikipedia anonymously, or you can login and edit it with whatever pseudonym or name you want to use. For the purposes of our course, I’m going to need to be able to track our students if they’re going to get academic credit for it. So I will need to have them create pseudonyms so that when they edit, I’ll be able to see that they edited and be able to track their progress over time. But, as is the case with all the rest of Wikipedia, anyone else in the globe will be editing simultaneously, too, so other people might edit their edits and improve the articles further based on our students’ input, as well.

Or not improve them.

That’s right; that’s true. Certainly there are controversial areas in Wikipedia in which there are disagreements among individuals. I really believe that our med students are knowledgeable consumers of the lay press and of the medical literature. They’re fourth-year medical students—they’re less than six or seven months away from becoming physicians.

Do you have any numbers at all about how many people are turning to Wikipedia for health information?

This information is all going to be coming from folks from Wikipedia. Some of it comes from Dr. James Heilman, an ER doctor and Wikipedia editor who came and talked to us at UCSF last January. The vast majority of the public doesn’t go to the Internet for medical-related topics; it’s a tiny fraction of what people spend their time on the Internet doing. But when you look at the places people go for health information, it turns out that [people go to] Wikipedia for medical information more than any other website. More than the National Institutes of Health, more than WebMD, more than Mayo Clinic. It’s more than many of those combined. That’s really staggering if you think about it, and I think it speaks to the popularity of Wikipedia in contrast to other sites.

For example, schizophrenia is one of the most highly-trafficked medical-related topics [on Wikipedia]. In the month of March 2013, there were 348,026 views of the schizophrenia page on Wikipedia. That adds up to something like 4 million pageviews a year on that page. That ranks 387th in traffic on Wikipedia for the month of March 2013.

Are there any examples that come to mind of egregious falsehoods that you’ve seen on medical Wikipedia pages?

There are examples of controversy that occur on Wikipedia where you have editing wars, and people go back and forth about things. As part of the press that’s come out around this [class], I received an email last night from a physician in Switzerland. He says, “I’m often very much annoyed at the medical information related to breast cancer screening on Wikipedia. The controversy spreads and the anti-screening people control that part of Wikipedia. A more balanced view would serve millions of women.” So this is an example of a faculty member in Switzerland who also serves as a consultant for quality assurance for Swiss cancer screening and mammography screening. Although I don’t know him personally and I’m just reading his email signature, he appears to be someone who has some legitimate expertise in this domain, and he emailed me to say “What a great idea; I’d love to participate in some way. I’m happy to be an expert for your medical students as they review those pages.” I don’t know breast cancer screening well, so I can’t speak as an expert in that domain about what is true on Wikipedia, but I think that’s an example where there may not be controversy within the medical community, but there is controversy within the public at large—people’s opinions about what we should or shouldn’t be doing.

I read also that Wikiproject Medicine sends their articles toTranslators Without Borders, and then they translate it into other languages. Is there a dearth of medical information online in languages other than English, or languages that are a little less common?

Yes, I can’t speak exactly to that dearth of the medical content, but if you look at the information on the Internet by language, the most predominant is obviously English. So 57 percent of the Internet is in English, then the next largest, for example, is a blanket category of “other” languages. But then if you compare that to the global population, the vast majority of the globe speaks “other” languages—57.8 percent of the population. Then I think what’s striking is when you look at Wikipedia articles by language—so, now we’re going to compare global population and Internet language to Wikipedia’s language. So, 17.7 percent of Wikipedia is English. And 46 percent is in other languages. So I’d offer that Wikipedia is more international than any other part of the Internet. That makes sense when you think about the model—it’s very much democratized; anyone can contribute, anyone can add. So we’re not limiting ourselves to some subset of the population, and that’s why Wikipedia is so popular.

If you think about ways in which we can try to provide high quality medical information to the world’s population, I don’t know if Wikipedia is the only viable way, but it’s certainly one of the most viable ways we have in the modern network. Translators Without Borders is going to take this information from the English language Wikipedia and convert it to many of the world’s other most popular languages. And they’re going to [translate it back] to English to make sure they got the translation correct.

Also, because a lot of the developing world has bypassed computers, they’ve gone straight to smartphones or cellphones for information, that’s a wonderful mechanism to get information to people. Many of the cell phone companies in the developing world will, of course, charge people for data plans. But because Wikipedia is a not-for-profit organization, they’ve been able to partner with many cell phone companies to make the Wikipedia pages available for free without data plan charges. So as those individuals in developing countries choose to look for information on their cell phones, they’re going to find it in the language of their preference for free, and with reliable information.

It’s great that the Swiss doctor emailed you and said he wants to do this as well. Your students are getting course credit for it, but normally doctors may not have as much of an incentive to edit Wikipedia pages. What would you say the importance is for doctors getting in on the editing process?

Again, credit to another physician, a doctor in Texas who runs a blog called33charts. He was the keynote speaker at a regional medical education conference that I went to. His name is Bryan Vartabedian, and he’s a pediatric gastroenterologist at Texas Children’s Hospital at Baylor College of Medicine. In his keynote address to our conference, he said that he felt it was a moral obligation for physicians to be out there in the blogosphere or on the Internet, and he gave what I think is a very compelling example. A few years ago there was some controversy around autism and vaccinations, and some fear that there was an association between specific vaccines and their rate of autism. Now, there were a lot of people posting stuff on the Internet that turned out later to be proven wrong. And he pointed out that there’s something like 45,000 U.S. pediatricians in the American Academy of Pediatrics, and he said, if each one of those 45,000 physicians simply posted once on the Internet somewhere, then we would have ruled the airwaves about that controversy and prevented hundreds of thousands, if not many more people from getting incorrect, unreliable, and inaccurate information on the Internet about autism and vaccinations. Framed that way, I do feel we have a moral obligation, as members of the profession to be reaching out to the people we intend to serve, where they are—and they are on the Internet. We don’t need to be waiting for them to come to our offices, we should be reaching out to them.

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