Public Health and Information Technology

Jon Udell posted the transcript of his conversation with Dr. Joel Selanikio (who, as the co-founder of DataDyne, is in the business of collecting public health data in developing countries) last Thursday, which I believe was right about the same time I finished a book I picked up at my parents house while on vacation. My dad is the public health officer for Mono County in California and can’t leave a bookstore without buying a couple books. He just so happened to have a book written by Tracy Kidder (author of The Soul Of A New Machine, among other books) titled ‘Mountains Beyond Mountains: Healing the World: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, which is the story of one Dr. Paul Farmer and his quest to

“… make a difference in solving global health problems through a clear-eyed understanding of the interaction of politics, wealth, social systems and disease.”

It’s a tremendous book and Jon’s blog post reminded me that I dog-eared a couple pages from the book that I wanted to note here for posterity and also that I was bothered while reading the book that information technology seemed not to have a role in Dr. Farmer’s plans for improving international public health. It’s fitting that one of the sayings that Dr. Farmer is fond of using (from page 177) is:

On what data exactly do you base that statement?

because Dr. Selanikio seems to have the same opinion:

Well, in clinical medicine, the way that we understand things is — if it’s a rash, I look at the rash, I think about it, I look stuff up, but I don’t systematically create a database. For one patient you can juggle the variables in your head. But when you have a population of affected people, you need to collect data and analyze it. That’s the basis of epidemiology.

So there ya go… information technology does have a place.

If you’re interested in the data collection that DataDyne does, check out these YouTube video interviews that Dr. Joel Selanikio did this last May:

One thought on “Public Health and Information Technology”

  1. More cool stuff here:

    http://www.frontlinesms.kiwanja.net/

    “FrontlineSMS is the first text messaging system to be conceived, designed and written firmly with the needs of the non-profit sector in mind. Until now, the majority of systems have not taken into account the nature of non-profit work, and the specific conditions (financial and physical) which many work under.”

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