107 posts in the category “Rare Diseases”

Not Recognizing the “New Me”

Posted December 10th, 2012 by

Are You Resistant to the Idea of a Wheelchair?

For many newly diagnosed patients, accepting help can be as difficult as accepting the diagnosis itself.  According to some of the members of our Parkinson’s disease community, here are a few signs that you may be struggling with the idea of becoming someone who might need help.

  • Have you found yourself feeling resentful when family, friends or strangers try to assist with something?
  • Have you resisted using a complimentary wheelchair (e.g., at the airport or on cruise ship) out of embarrassment?
  • Have you worried that becoming someone who receives help is going to change your lifelong identity?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are far from alone.  Many PatientsLikeMe members report that learning to accept help gracefully is one of the most challenging aspects of chronic illness.  And it’s not just allowing the help itself, per se, but seeing yourself in a new light, as one member puts it.  It’s not unusual to take great pride in being a superman or superwoman, the type of handy, resourceful person who does it all and is always helping others in the family or community.  This can be part of your self-image, as well as a source of self-esteem.

So what do you do when you are suddenly the person being helped instead of the helper?  It requires a psychological shift, according to our members, that involves letting go of ego and viewing the care and assistance you are receiving as a gift, not an insult.  It also means communicating frequently and lovingly about the issue, so as to address “the elephant in the room.”  If you can manage the task yourself, speak up and say so politely, advises one patient.  Otherwise, practice saying “thank you” and “I love you” with gratitude, encourages another member.  Ultimately, as our members state over and over, the best tools for coming to terms with the realities of your new life are a positive attitude, humor and support from others like you.

Can you relate to this common hurdle?  Join this insightful discussion in our forum or share your thoughts in the comments section.


Honoring Family Caregivers Everywhere

Posted November 26th, 2012 by

Is there a caregiver in your family?  For example, someone who looks out for an elderly parent or grandparent – or who cares for a child or spouse with a debilitating illness?

November Is National Family Caregivers Month

November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time for recognizing the important role of family caregivers in our society as well as the challenges they face on a daily basis.  Currently more than 65 million Americans (or approximately 29% of the US population) are serving in a caregiver role in any given year, averaging 20 hours per week.  Approximately 66% are women. The value of services these caregivers provide for “free” when caring for older adults is estimated to be $375 billion per year.

Yet what many people may not think about is the economic and health impact on the family caregiver.  Financially, caregiving families have median incomes that are 15% lower than non-caregiving families, and women caregivers are 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty than non-caregivers.  In terms of health and well-being, approximately 40 to 70% of caregivers report clinically significant symptoms of depression, according to one study, while 55% say they skip doctor appointments for themselves.  Read other eye-opening caregiver statistics here.

PatientsLikeMe strives to support and involve caregivers with our “CareTeam” concept, which was developed to include everyone who participates in the care of our patient members.  That could be a spouse/partner, parent, child, doctor, therapist, home health worker, sibling, relative or friend.  Patients can invite caregivers to join PatientsLikeMe, and once they are members, send them a CareTeam invite to link together their profiles.  That way, both the patient and caregiver can stay abreast of how the other is doing physically, emotionally and socially.

ALS patient Persevering’s CareTeam members (his wife and his sister, respectively) are displayed in the “About Me” section of his profile.

Currently, there are more than 7,000 caregivers registered with PatientsLikeMe, many of whom are active users of our forums, who chart their own symptoms and treatments and who are seeking information, guidance and support directly from patients or other caregivers.  Browse their profiles – even if they have no specific health issues, caregivers can monitor their well-being with tools like our InstantMe and Quality of Life surveys – and find out what their life is like today.


What’s Positive About Disease?

Posted November 21st, 2012 by

What Are You Unexpectedly Grateful for?

It may seem counterintuitive, but according to some of our members, there are actually some good things that can come out of being diagnosed with a serious illness.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving – a time when many people are reminded of all the things they have to be grateful for – we thought we would share some of our members’ uplifting sentiments.

From our Fibromyalgia Community, some of the unexpected benefits include:

  • Getting to spend more time with children or grandchildren
  • Taking advantage of “good days” with a little extra gusto
  • Appreciating what you have…and knowing it could be worse
  • Refocusing on new hobbies like gardening and meditation

From our Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Community, some of the unexpected benefits include:

  • Letting go of the pressurized feeling that you have to do it all
  • A deeper understanding of how many people face major challenges
  • Discovering new artistic talents, such as painting or needle work
  • Slowing down the pace of life and prioritizing sleep – without guilt

From our Epilepsy Community, some of the unexpected benefits include:

  • Learning to never judge a person by only what you see
  • Becoming more patient and not taking anything for granted
  • Filtering out fair-weather friends and uncaring partners
  • Having extra motivation to live the healthiest lifestyle possible

What about you?  Have you noticed some positive takeaways from your illness?  Share them in our comments section in honor of Thanksgiving.  And, from everyone at PatientsLikeMe, we wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday!


Searching for a Diagnosis: An Interview with Lyme Disease Patient Pampe

Posted November 9th, 2012 by

Lyme Disease Patient Pampe

Getting the right diagnosis can take many years, or in the case of PatientsLikeMe patient Pampe, many decades.  After experiencing her first Lyme disease symptom in 1973, it was not until 2012 that she finally received a diagnosis that explained her many symptoms.  Discover what hindered the process and what’s she learned along the way in our interview with this highly active member, who has contributed more than 12,000 posts to our forum since joining PatientsLikeMe in 2010.

1.  You had a very long journey to discovering your Lyme disease. Where were some of the obstacles?

The main obstacle to an appropriate diagnosis of Lyme disease for me was the lack of knowledge in the traditional Western Medical System. Had my general practitioner (GP) known about the testing for Lyme, I might have been diagnosed 10-12 years earlier. Many people go from doctor to doctor and undergo a horrific array of tests and medications before they find out it is Lyme disease.

2.  We have a new Lyme Disease Forum at PatientsLikeMe. What is that important to you?

After my diagnosis and two other members of the Fibromyalgia Forum discovering they too had Lyme, I think I was pretty vocal in expressing the need for a Lyme Disease Forum. There are several clinical studies indicating that many people with autoimmune disorders, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis (MS), ALS and Parkinson’s disease actually have underlying Lyme disease or co-infections.

3.  You have a three-star profile as well as more than 5,600 helpful marks for your forum activity, which means you are one of the most helpful members around! What do you get out of using PatientsLikeMe?

I have always considered it an honor to help people both professionally and as a volunteer. Most people come to PatientsLikeMe in a state of shock, sadness and loneliness. They need support and information, and PatientsLikeMe can provide that in many ways. I have tried to help with support and information. What I get out of it is the absolute joy of seeing someone rise above his/her diagnosis and find new ways of being. It has been my great joy to see 4-5 new people from other forums find a Lyme disease diagnosis after reading some of the information I posted.

4.  Your profile reveals that you have an interest in alternative medicine. Where does that stem from?

During my working life, I was a nurse and psychotherapist. I was lucky to train in areas where alternative, holistic practices were available. I have seen them work and work well in many instances. I personally use alternative care for most of my health needs. There is no doubt that what we put in our bodies (mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually) affects our health. It seems reasonable to me that we then must look at all those things and change what isn’t working.


What We’re Reading at PatientsLikeMe

Posted November 7th, 2012 by

Here are some of the media items that grabbed our attention recently.

Four Things I Learned from Living with a Chronic Illness
Wise advice from a teenager who had to give up competitive gymnastics and find a new perspective on life after being diagnosed with a disease that causes chronic pain.

Access to Doctors’ Notes Aids Patients’ Treatment
A new study finds that patients better understand their condition and feel more in control when they can read their doctors’ notes (something you’re legally entitled to access).

Why We Need Ecological Medicine
Do we need exposure to a diversity of bacteria and germs for optimal immune health?  A thought-provoking essay about the “germ theory,” “hygiene hypothesis” and more.

What We're Reading at PatientsLikeMe.  Image Courtesy of Stock Free Images.

Coming Next:  Using an App as Prescribed
A New York Times piece about whether healthcare apps – now regulated by the FDA – could reduce costs and change the way we monitor health.

Help with ALS via Twitter
An article about our partner ALS Untangled and how they are applying scientific rigor to the investigation of alternative therapies in ALS, having reviewed 45 to date.

Mining the Internet for Speedier Alerts on Drugs
The Wall Street Journal examines the results of a study showing that Internet search algorithms can detect adverse events for certain drugs ahead of FDA warnings.


A Day in the Life of PatientsLikeMe Web Developer Adam Darowski

Posted October 19th, 2012 by

What’s it like to work at PatientsLikeMe?  We are continuing to reveal just that with our monthly blog series “A Day in the Life,” which features PatientsLikeMe employees from different departments.  Today we’d like to introduce you to Adam Darowski, a father of three who joined the technology team as a web developer exactly three years ago.  Find out why he had a crush on the company long before he came to work here and more in our interview.

PatientsLikeMe Web Developer Adam Darowski with Each of His Kids

1.  What led you to join PatientsLikeMe in 2009?

I had been a big fan of PatientsLikeMe since late 2006 when I originally met Co-Founders Ben Heywood and Jeff Cole. Over time, it became more and more clear to me that my next position would be with PatientsLikeMe. First the company hired Kate Brigham (who I had known for quite a while), then I met people like Cris Necochea and Rich Thornett. I knew it was a special place with special people.

What ultimately led me here in 2009 was the opportunity to do some things that were very important to me. I want to make PatientsLikeMe an incredible resource not just for patients living chronic conditions, but also for parent caregivers of children with developmental and chromosomal disorders. We’ve made some progress on that front but still have a lot of work to do.

2.  Give us a slice of life as a web developer.  What are you working on currently?

We just finished Wow Week, which is pretty much my favorite thing in the world. [Occurring every six weeks, Wow Week is a week of unstructured time in which the PatientsLikeMe technology team can work on and present their own ideas.]

I worked on some concepts for what PatientsLikeMe could look like if it was focused exclusively on parent caregivers. So, this involved some user research (not a ton, since it was only a concept and I only had a week), user interface design, and a lot of visual design. Since I also love to get in the code, I then worked with Michael Berkowitz to start building it out some of the features. My main focus there was on the home page, building a design that would work well whether you looked at it on a phone or a 24-inch monitor.

During more typical weeks, my time is spent building and improving site features. I’m a “front end” guy, which means I don’t really do any hardcore software engineering. Rather, I build the part that you actually see and interact with. I also like to chip in on the design side of things, whether it is on new features or just adapting an existing design for new requirements or different scenarios.

3.  What would you tell someone who’s considering joining the technology team?

I would tell them that this is a very passionate, bright, motivated and diverse team, and I’m honored to be a part of it. PatientsLikeMe isn’t a place to go if you have a big ego. We work together, we collaborate, we give and receive constructive criticism, we strive to make each other better, and we strive to give our members the best user experience possible. If you want a genuine, honest-to-goodness chance to build something that has a chance to change the world, this is where you want to be.

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Interested in making a difference in patients’ lives?  Check out our Careers page to see our current job openings.  Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, PatientsLikeMe is looking to hire a Senior Ruby on Rails / Web Application Developer, Business Development Manager, Graphic Designer and more at the moment.


PatientsLikeMe Featured on Bloomberg TV

Posted October 15th, 2012 by

On October 9th, Bloomberg TV aired a four-and-a-half minute “Innovators” segment profiling PatientsLikeMe’s journey as company.  Filmed partially in our office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the piece features PatientsLikeMe Co-Founder and Chairman Jamie Heywood as well as Ed Sikov, a PatientsLikeMe member with Parkinson’s disease.  Our thanks go to Bloomberg’s Nicole Lapin for her in-depth coverage of our evolution into a data-sharing platform that, as she puts it, “functions more like a clinical trial.”

Visit our Press page for other recent PatientsLikeMe media highlights.

Watch the Bloomberg TV profile below:


Recognizing the Rare Disease Community’s Champions of Hope

Posted October 9th, 2012 by

PatientsLikeMe Is Proud to Be Partnered with the Global Genes / RARE Disease Project

Did you know that 1 in 10 people worldwide have rare and genetic conditions?

PatientsLikeMe was a proud sponsor of the 1st Annual Tribute to Champions of Hope, organized by our partner the Global Genes / RARE Project. Held on September 27th in Newport Beach, CA, the gala recognized outstanding individuals who are working to affect change in the rare and genetic disease community.  All proceeds from the event – which attracted celebrities, medical researchers, pharmaceutical executives and even Olympic champions – go to benefit programs for patients and advocates.

PatientsLikeMe

In attendance from PatientsLikeMe were Ben Heywood, Arianne Graham and Deborah Volpe, who got to hear inspirational stories of the work these champions of hope are doing.  Highlights included the Biotechnology Award given to Charles Dunlop of Ambry Genetics and the Mauli Ola Foundation, which organizes therapeutic surf experiences for kids with cystic fibrosis, and a preview of the documentary Here. Us. Now., which chronicles a family with twin daughters diagnosed with Niemann-Pick Type C, a rare, incurable and fatal genetic disease.  Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Henri Termeer, the former President and CEO of Genyzme, aptly summed up all those who received awards as “people that have a sense that if they focus, they can make a difference.”  (Click here to read about all eight Champion of Hope honorees.)

Even the Dessert Made You Think About Your DNA and the Impact of Genetics at the 1st Annual Tribute to Champions of Hope Gala

After uplifting musical performances and talks by celebrity presenters Jason George (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and Nestor Serrano (Act of Valor), the night ended with a heart-stopping, impromptu rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” performed by several rising singer-songwriters, including Chris Mann and Katrina Parker from the “The Voice,”  Elliott Yamin from the fifth season of “American Idol” and Gracie Van Brunt, a young girl battling a rare genetic disease called Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome who performed her own original song earlier in the evening.

Chris Mann, Gracie Van Brunt, Katrina Parker and Elliot Yamin (Left to Right) Performing at the Tribute to Champions of Hope

The gala was followed the next day by the 2012 Patient Advocacy Summit, a forum where patient advocates could discuss issues that directly affect them, from resources to policy. PatientsLikeMe Co-Founder and President Ben Heywood was featured on the Innovative Technologies and Platforms panel, sharing the stage with Dr. David Eckstein of the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Discussing the topic of “Accessing the Science,” they each gave an overview of how patient registries and clinical trials are promoting change and advancing medical research.

As a prime example, PatientsLikeMe joined forces with the Global Genes / RARE Project last year to create the RARE Open Registry Project, a resource for patients and families fighting rare and genetic diseases.  What makes it different from other registries is every time you enter data into the system, you receive information back showing how your data compares to others fighting similar diseases or taking similar therapies.  If your family is impacted by a rare or genetic disease, we invite you to join the registry today


The Joy of Being Helpful

Posted August 27th, 2012 by

Many patients with life-changing conditions report feelings of grief and guilt about no longer being able to do many of the things they did in the past.  As a recent discussion in our forum revealed, however, patients are finding ways to reset their perspective and boost their self-esteem by focusing on what they are still able to give to others, despite the challenges of their illness.

The Joy of Being Helpful

Here are some of the small and large contributions our members have made, helping them to feel good about themselves:

  • Going to the hospice to sit and talk with the residents
  • Sending handwritten letters via snail mail to loved ones
  • Participating in educational events about the role of service dogs
  • Getting good friends together for a gathering to reconnect
  • Volunteering in a food bank to appreciate having food to eat
  • Calling an isolated grandparent or friend regularly on the phone
  • Allowing the cat from down the road to come inside and snuggle
  • Fostering or adopting medically fragile children in the system

Have you found strength – or a renewed sense of purpose – by doing what you can to help others?  Share your experiences in the comments section.  Also, you may want to check out two books recommended by our members for inspiration:  Strong at the Broken Places, about five different patients with chronic illnesses including ALS and Crohn’s disease, and 29 Gifts, written by a multiple sclerosis (MS) patient whose South African healer gave her a prescription of helping others for an entire month.


Bringing PatientsLikeMe into the Doctor’s Office: An Interview with Pediatrician Dr. Jim King

Posted August 20th, 2012 by

You may recall that in July we shared a video about Doctors 2.0 and You, a conference focused on how physicians are using web 2.0 technology.  Today we’d like to present a real-life example of this concept: Dr. Jim King, MSc, MD, FRCPC.  A pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa, Dr. King runs a number of different clinics for rare diseases.  He also serves as the hospital’s Medical Director for Informatics.  Find out how he has used PatientsLikeMe as part of his practice and much more in our interview below.

Dr. Jim King, MSc, MD, FRCPC, Medical Director for Informatics and Pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO)

1. How did PatientsLikeMe come to your attention?

We were doing a presentation a number of years ago, in 2006 I guess. We were talking about a number of things, but more specifically the use of mobile technology in healthcare and research as well as personal health records. So we were sort of working up some information and then we came across PatientsLikeMe. We were basically looking at some of the business models around personal health records, specifically around Microsoft Vault and Google Health and those things, and we thought PatientsLikeMe had a little bit of a different spin.

2. As a pediatrician, how have you used PatientsLikeMe?

I specifically used it in one of my clinics. I follow a number of teenagers that have orthostatic intolerance and also chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia and other conditions related to orthostatic intolerance. I get a lot of questions about different medications. The families are very well versed in information and are always looking for new sites to visit. So I will often direct them to PatientsLikeMe. You can find sites with support groups, but you never really know how many people are involved. Then people are going online and looking up things by themselves. But I felt that all the information being presented back through PatientsLikeMe was pretty good.

One example was a 16-year-old patient with fibromyalgia. Their family doctor had recommended she take gabapentin based on a news article. So in the past, and even currently, one of the ways I would look at this situation and get as much information as possible would be to go on sites like PubMed or Bandolier, the Oxford site in the UK, and try to pull together what worked and what didn’t work. Some of these sites are pretty good because often they will tell you what the positive outcome is. But one of the difficulties is that they don’t always tell you what the adverse affects are.

Side Effects Reported by PatientsLikeMe Member for the Medication Gabapentin

It was nice because I sat down with this patient and we pulled up PatientsLikeMe. And I think at that time there were a couple hundred patients that had been on gabapentin and the actual number that had side affects, I’m just recalling now from a few years ago, was equivalent or slightly greater than the amount who had actually benefited from the medication. So we made a decision at that time not to actually go on gabapentin. Instead, we tried some other things. It was very helpful in my daily stream of care to be able to do that.

3.  We have a large community of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients at PatientsLikeMe. What are some of the challenges for adolescents with these conditions?

There are multiple challenges. I think the first challenge is that it’s really an undefined condition. There isn’t a specific diagnostic test, so labeling is a bit of a challenge. Sometimes it takes time for people to understand the impact. And, it’s the same as any chronic illness that doesn’t have overt physical symptoms. You know, everyone looks normal but they feel terrible. When you’re feeling bad all the time physically, or a lot of the time physically, that can make you feel unwell mentally. So having a place where you can go to actually hear that and learn how other people are coping and dealing with it is a big benefit. It certainly shouldn’t hurt, right? And there can be some pretty positive effects from having a community as well.

We are making a diagnosis based on a constellation of symptoms so there are probably a lot of different disorders or a lot of different reasons why someone has a diagnosis of chronic fatigue. So because it’s such a heterogeneous group, there are going to be a lot of different management and therapeutic approaches. So, you really need a large number of people to start understanding what’s working and what’s not working. And again, compiling and pulling that information together is quite beneficial.

4.  Do you have any thoughts on how large online data sets at PatientsLikeMe or other websites could shape the future of healthcare?

You can’t manage what you can’t measure, right? That’s quite obvious. So, if we can do better measurements along knowing what your population is, but have something on what the actual outcomes are, that should be beneficial in the long run. It’s like anything. You have to know your population really well. And if you can define your population really well, then these large data sets, and I would say sites like PatientsLikeMe, can be quite powerful. It is a definite movement and force going forward, for sure. You need thoughtful stewardship for this, and you need a thoughtful ability to analyze the data and make clinical sense from it.

5.  Anything else you want to add about PatientsLikeMe?

For me, there are two other things.  First, the actual connections for people from sites like this are quite important – you know, the support group piece. And also you will have people with multiple problems and they may be doing something that seems to be a bit unique but is beneficial. Also, say you have a condition which is rare and there are only a couple of hundred cases in the world. You learn so much more when you start connecting and you find that maybe a problem, like fever, is a normal part of the illness and people just haven’t gotten together to figure it out. Being able to share that information relieves a lot of stress for families – we hate the unknown – and is quite powerful.

Second is the explosion in clinical information, especially the way things are going with genetics, molecular biology and bioinformatics. The ability to be diagnosed or know your risk and response to treatment with one or multiple diseases based on your genetic material is fantastic.  While there is tremendous potential, this is extremely complex and what we are going to see is that our phenotypes, our observable characteristics or traits, may or may not match our genotypes, the inherited instructions within our genetic code. I think sites that can link large groups are going to become more powerful.

So, as we are pulling all those things together, it will be important to have a source where you can actually be able to make sense of it and make it a lot easier to get some prognosis for guidance for people about what’s going to happen. Because a lot of times, you’re sort of in the dark with a lot of uncertainty for some conditions. So I think pulling that information together can be quite powerful and liberating.


PatientsLikeMe in the News: A Roundup

Posted July 18th, 2012 by

Check out some of the media outlets that have highlighted health social networks recently – including PatientsLikeMe and our members.

Social Media a Godsend for Patients with Rare Diseases
PatientsLikeMe is highlighted as a good example in this Chicago Tribune article.

Medical Innovation Needs Silicon Valley Speed, Stat
Fast Company cites us for providing “unprecedented levels of feedback on side effects.”

PatientsLikeMe in the News.  Photo courtesy www.stockfreeimages.com.

How Social Networks Enable Patients to Be More Involved in Their Healthcare
PatientsLikeMe is “at the heart of this shift,” according to this Guardian (UK) article.

Telemedicine Tackles Mental Health Treatment
Our InstantMe survey of how you’re feeling is called out in this Information Week piece.

Match.coms of Clinical Trials Make It Easier to Connect Patients, Researchers
We’re spotlighted as one of the “matchmaking” services that could expedite research.

To see more PatientsLikeMe media coverage, visit our Press page.   To read other articles about Health 2.0 and join the discussion, follow this Twitter hashtag.


The Importance of Open Access: An Interview with Patient Advocate Graham Steel

Posted July 9th, 2012 by

A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Graham Steel is a longtime “Guest Researcher Member” of PatientsLikeMe.  Following the death of his brother Richard at the age of 33 from a rare condition known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), Graham became involved in patient advocacy work, and most recently, in lobbying for open access to published scientific research.  Find out how this active blogger and Tweeter developed a passion for data sharing in our interview below.

Patient Advocate and Open Access Supporter Graham Steel

1.  Tell us how you first got involved in patient advocacy work.

As per my PatientsLikeMe profile, this started in 2001. Two years after the loss of my only sibling to vCJD, I was approached by a UK organization called the Human BSE Foundation to act as their Vice-Chair. Quite a daunting task for a 33-year-old!! I was involved in that capacity until 2005. Over the years, my interests in science and information sharing to this day continue to diversify.

I’m a great believer in complete openness and transparency as anyone who knows me in real life or via the Internet knows. One of my key assets seems to be “connecting people,” something that I started doing at the age of four. I enjoy making new connections and this is made so much easier with the advent of the web.

2.  You’ve been a member of PatientsLikeMe since 2007.  What key changes have you seen the site go through in that time?

I am not 100% sure where I first found out about PatientsLikeMe but it was most probably via the main ALS TDI Forum. I’m not a “regular” PatientsLikeMe forum poster with only 197 posts since February 2007. Some key changes that spring to mind: the addition of a PatientsLikeMe blog was a great development. A couple of years ago, a “Share This” button was added to the blog making it much, much easier to share content via social networking sites, etc.

The PatientsLikeMe platform itself has expanded in many ways since 2007. At that time, if I recall correctly, ALS/MND was the only disease covered. Now, that has increased to >1,200 conditions, so that alone is a major development. New features get rolled out on a regular basis and they are accompanied with good and clear explanations. It’s also much easier to ‘drill down’ to/for specific content, and the site is generally simpler to navigate than back in 2007, IMHO.

The Logo for the Open Access Movement

3.  You have recently campaigned for open access publishing. Why is this important to patients?

Yes, as of late 2006, I stumbled upon my first Open Access (OA) Manuscript, as it happened via Public Library of Science Pathogens. Up until that point, I had assumed that ALL Scientific, Technical & Medical (STM) content was locked up behind paywalls. As such, it was very enlightening to discover an alternative to traditional publishing. As matters stand though, only ~15% of Peer Reviewed STM Manuscripts are OA, and subscription-based publishing is still “the norm.” The reason that I became part of the OA Community was to use my networking skills to make more people aware of and involved in OA. OA itself however is just one cog (but a significant one) in the wheel of Open Science!!

“Why is OA important to patients?” Where does one start?! One of the best recent responses to that question comes from PatientsLikeMe’s very own Dr. Paul Wicks with his guest post over at the Public Library of Science Blogs dated June 14th, 2012, and entitled “Open Access Is Not For Scientists. It’s For Patients.”

Two key sections of that post that stood out for myself most were:

“In the past six years, we’ve found that more and more patients are trying to access research studies written about them, including studies where they were participants. In addition, they are increasingly capable of understanding them. Yet closed access is locking them out of better understanding their conditions and their choices.”

And…

“As a society, we need to recognize that our understanding of disease doesn’t belong to science. It belongs to the patients (who are also usually our funders, by the way), and we should exist only to serve them.”

4.  What do you see as being critical for the future of patient advocacy?

The Internet, Open Data and The Semantic Web. In terms of the sharing of data from patients, PatientsLikeMe was the first platform (that I am aware of) that made it easy for patients to share their data online with others. Whilst this data is “open,” it is open to the PatientsLikeMe community (and selected others) but not open at large. As stated in June this year by Sir Paul Nurse, “the President of the Royal Society said there was a need to put safeguards in place to protect confidentiality.” Sir Paul said that in reality no data was “totally secure” and that doctors already relied on personal information for treatment. “If you want a complete guarantee of privacy you would have to diagnose and treat yourself,” he said. (Also, see the recent “Science as an open enterprise” report by The Royal Society).

John Wilbanks Speaking at TED Global.  Photo Credit:  James Duncan Davidson.

In terms of the semantic web and link data, entities such as http://linkeddata.org/ and http://www.linkeddatatools.com/ have a lot of potential in terms of what we can do in a linked up world. Also in June, in his talk at TED Global entitled “Unreasonable People Unite,” John Wilbanks made a number of interesting points. From the TED Blog:

“Wilbanks’ proposal is a medical commons, a way for people to gather this medical data and share it freely. People are neurotic about privacy and keeping control of their data. ‘Some of us like to share as control.’ And, he believes we live in an age where people agree with him. He mentions a study run at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. ‘It’s not the most science-positive state in America,’ he says. ‘Only 5% wanted out. People like to share if given the opportunity and choice.’ And not using this data to understand health issues through mathematical analysis ‘is like having a giant set of power tools but leaving them not plugged in while using hand saws.’”


Women’s Health Week: “It’s Your Time”

Posted May 14th, 2012 by

Ladies, we know your lives get busy.  So why not pull out your calendar or smartphone right now and see if you’re due for a visit to your health care providers?  You’ll be doing your part for National Women’s Checkup Day (observed today, Monday, May 14th), an annual event that’s part of National Women’s Health Week.

It's National Women's Health Week

Checkup Day encourages women to get regular checkups that are vital to the early detection of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, mental illnesses, sexually transmitted infections and other conditions.  The reason is simple.  Women often serve as the caregivers for their partners, children and parents. As a result, their own well-being can be secondary at times.  The theme of National Women’s Health Week 2012 – “It’s Your Time” – speaks to the fact that women need to prioritize their own health as well.

Not sure what preventative screenings are recommended for you?  Check out this handy chart organized by age group.  Then take the Checkup Day pledge along with women around the country to get at least one recommended screening during May. If you’re concerned about cost, you should know that all recommended preventative screenings – such as mammograms, colon cancer screenings, Pap screenings and well-woman visits – are now covered by your insurance plan with no out-of-pocket costs.

Join the 2012 WOMAN Challenge and Get Healthy for Good

But scheduling an appointment may just be the first step.  If you’re looking to get healthy in 2012, why not do it with the help of a community?  The 2012 WOMAN Challenge offers an online platform for tracking your nutrition goals and daily activity.  The challenge is to follow through with planned nutrition changes and be active 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week, for six out of eight weeks.  Register here to get started.

If you’re a woman living with a health condition, you can also find a community of women right here at PatientsLikeMe.  We have 70,995 female members who are sharing how they are managing more than 1,000 different conditions, including fibromyalgia, endometriosis, menopause, infertility and postpartum depression.  Take control of your condition with the help of women just like you today.


Recognizing Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) Awareness Month

Posted March 20th, 2012 by

In observing Rare Disease Day at the end of February, we talked how there are 7,000+ conditions that are categorized as rare diseases due to their lower prevalence (less than 200,000 people in the US).  Today we’d like to spotlight one of these lesser-known conditions:  multiple system atrophy (MSA), which affects 536 PatientsLikeMe members and approximately 50,000 Americans.

A Snapshot of the MSA Community at PatientsLikeMe

There are no celebrities with MSA, nor is there a high-profile nonprofit organization driving awareness of the disease.  Instead, MSA patients have organized themselves through a “Miracles for MSA” Facebook page and determined grassroots efforts.  They’ve also designated March as Multiple System Atrophy Awareness Month.  Their goal?  “We want to reach everyone affected by MSA and have them join us here to make our voices even louder next year.  Together, we can make miracles happen for MSA.”

What can you do to help?  Learn about MSA and help spread the word.  Previously known as Shy-Drager Syndrome, MSA affects middle-aged men and women and advances rapidly with a progressive loss of motor skills.  It is very rare for someone to live 15 years with MSA.  One of the common symptoms is stiffness, similar to what’s seen in Parkinson’s disease.  As a result, MSA is considered a “Parkinson’s plus syndrome,” but it does not typically respond to Parkinson’s treatments.

See MSA’s devastating symptoms firsthand – including losing the ability to speak and swallow solid foods – in this moving YouTube video made by the daughter of a MSA patient.  It’s been entered in the 2012 Neuro Film Festival from the American Academy of Neurology, with winners to be announced April 22, 2012.