Category Archives: collaboration

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:

Data finds data

Jon Udell recently blogged about the way in which he ‘connected’ paths with a number of people or introduced acquaintances via blogging / publishing and bookmark sharing. One of the Important Takeway’sTM is that tagging, blogging and social bookmarking tools are a great way of saying, in a (hopefully) machine readable format, “what I’m thinking about” and “what I’m an expert in“.

At Jive Software, working on the Clearspace team, we’ve tried to make it easy to find experts, going so far as to add some really novel expertise searching and profiling. You can do a search for a person using a keyword and any number of profile fields against a specific space or community to find someone who might know the answer to the problem you’re facing. And that’s useful but I think the real value is going to come from the kind of thing that Jon mentions in his story: I’ll call it non-directed expert search. Imagine for a moment a giant faceless corporation with tall walls between departments: Don from the Widget team blogs about replicated and distributed data management on a regular basis. He’s busy (he just had another kid and doesn’t have time to go looking for experts in his field) but because he’s blogging and tagging in his regular course of work, Scott from the FooBar team might subscribe to a tag feed like ‘caching’ or ‘reliability’ and he’ll catch one of Don’s blog posts. And just by making it really easy to publish blog posts and bookmarks and by making said blog posts and bookmarks searchable, taggable, and syndicated, your employees and community members can connect without having to search for an expert, the experts present themselves, said using a quote from the aforementioned blog post:

…Data tends to finds data. And when it does, people find each other.