Archive for the ‘General News’ Category


New England Journal of Medicine Reviews Medicalization of Cyberspace

November 17, 2008

and it’s pretty good too….

“Andy Miah and Emma Rich have extracted from cyberspace fascinating narratives about topics such as the persistent sexual arousal syndrome, the Visible Human Project, the controversy about an online auction for a human kidney (which never actually happened), suicide anorexia nervosa (Pro-Ana) movement….[The authors] seek to listen to what is going on in cyberspace and to understand how it affects the way that people see health and disease.”


Women ‘using web for abortions’ (BBC, 2008)

July 11, 2008

Women ‘using web for abortions’
By Jane Dreaper
Health correspondent, BBC News

Some women in countries where abortion is restricted are using the internet to buy medication enabling them to abort a pregnancy at home, the BBC has learned.

Women in Northern Ireland and over 70 countries with restrictions have used one of the main websites, Women on Web.

A British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology review of 400 customers found nearly 11% had needed a surgical procedure after taking the medication.

The website says it can help reduce the problems linked with unsafe abortions.

‘Stressful experience’

But anti-abortion campaigners called the development of such sites “very worrying indeed”.

The research into those who had used Women on Web found that about 8% did not end up using the medication they had ordered.

Almost 11% went on to need a surgical procedure – either because the drugs had not completed the abortion or because of excessive bleeding.
I think it’s very important women have this resource to turn to in that situation
Women on Web customer

Almost 200 women answered questions about their experiences – 58% said they were just grateful to have been able to have had an abortion in this way, while 31% had felt stressed but found the experience acceptable.

Women on Web posts the drugs only to countries where abortion is heavily restricted, and to women who declare they are less than nine weeks’ pregnant.

A US woman, who has a rare medical complication meaning pregnancy is life-threatening to her, described her experience when she used the website while in Thailand.


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“Women on Web kept in contact with me via e-mail. The medication arrived through Customs, properly blister-packed, with complete paperwork and a doctor’s signature.

“Medication from other websites came in unmarked bottles with no instructions or paperwork – it was quite frightening.

“I was not very far along – only three or four weeks. It went smoothly for me.

“I think it’s very important women have this resource to turn to in that situation – and they can need it for a number of reasons.”

‘Reputable site’

The Family Planning Association in Northern Ireland has had several calls from women considering buying abortion pills online.

Northern Ireland was not included in the 1967 Abortion Act, which liberalised access to termination on the mainland.
At present a woman is generally given an abortion if she has a serious medical or psychological problem that endangers her life if she continues with her pregnancy, has severe learning difficulties, or if doctors detect foetal abnormalities.
Social abortions are less easily accessible, although critics say the law lacks clarity.

The FPA said that on two occasions, women bought drugs without appropriate medical information. They experienced complications and needed aftercare.

Northern Ireland FPA director Audrey Simpson said: “The Women On Web site is very helpful and reputable.

“But for Northern Ireland women, it is encouraging them to break the law – and as an organisation, we have to work within the law.

“We’re really concerned about women accessing the rogue sites – we’re hearing about it and we know it’s happening.

“There are potentially serious medical complications for women from sites which aren’t well managed and this could be the new era of backstreet abortions.”

Anti-abortion campaigners said they were appalled by such websites.

Josephine Quintavalle, from the group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: “This is very worrying indeed. It represents further trivialisation of the value of the unborn child.

“It’s like taking abortion into the shadows. These drugs have side-effects and tragedies will increase.”

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Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/07/11 04:28:40 GMT



MBA: Is cyber medicine turning us into a nation of expert patients?

July 10, 2008

MBA: Is cyber medicine turning us into a nation of expert patients?

Researchers from Manchester Business School and The University of Glasgow are undertaking an in-depth study into the impact of cybermedicine, such as virtual health communities and self-help sites, on face-to-face healthcare. They are looking for volunteers to share their experiences and take part in an online survey.

Funded by the NHS National Institute of Health Research Service Delivery and Organisation Programme, the research responds to the rise of the ‘expert patient’ who uses cybermedicine to self-diagnose, and the decline in the deference traditionally linked to professional judgement.

Dr Debbie Keeling, research associate at Manchester Business School explains:

“The project examines how a patient’s use of the internet affects their interaction with healthcare professionals, how they select the most appropriate treatment and most importantly, how it impacts upon their health. The study aims to provide a detailed analysis of cybermedicine, which will be used to help ensure patients receive the best possible choice of treatments and services from health professionals in the future.”

The key aims of the project are:

to quantify the extent and patterns of patients’ use of the internet as a health information resource and identify the factors that lead to variations in behaviour arising from accessing information
to identify the search strategies employed by patients in accessing health information on the internet and the evaluative approaches used in assessing the quality of available information
to analyse the membership, content and dynamics of virtual health communities and identify how participation in such communities is integrated into patients’ engagement with healthcare services
to document and conceptualise the evolving nature of patient-professional interaction arising from patient access to healthcare information and the subsequent format of the healthcare encounter
to assess the effect of changing patient access to information and the renegotiation of the healthcare encounter on patterns of patient decision making, health behaviour and, where feasible, measurable health outcomes
The research will focus on patients affected by cancer (breast and prostate), diabetes and depression. It aims to help determine future NHS policy and strategic planning, and improve organisation and service delivery, training and development.

Professor Angus Laing, The University of Glasgow, said:

“The internet is changing the way we live our lives and the consequences for healthcare is profound  – changing the expectations of patients and confronting professionals with new challenges. The image in the popular media is of hard-pressed doctors besieged by patients waving internet-printout. Yet such simplification disguises a much more complex pattern of change, where increasing diversity of behaviour is the key change.”


The Nintendo Wii and BMI

May 29, 2008

Nintendo Apologizes for Wii Fit BMI Offenses

– Backlash continues against the fitness game

By: Andrei Dumitrescu, Games Editor

Last week, we reported on the girl who was offended by the fact that the Wii Fit game considered her to be… a little above the recommended weight as it was constructed based on her other physical attributes. The story itself seems a bit on the fishy side but, nevertheless, the parents of other kids,

presumably overweight themselves, expressed outrage at the fact that a game would dare to imply that their kids were fat.

If you ask me, this is snowballing into something newsworthy just because it’s about the Wii Fit, which is a clear success as far as videogames go. The sole purpose of the game is to get people back into exercising and it’s only natural that it would make an evaluation of the Body Mass Index of the person so that it can recommend the best exercises. It’s absurd to ask from a game not to hurt someone’s feelings. It’s only numbers that the game shows and it’s up to you to draw the appropriate conclusions from them.

Nevertheless, Nintendo has released a statement in which it apologizes for any sensibilities hurt. The statement reads: “Nintendo would like to apologize to any customers offended by the in-game terminology used to classify a player’s current BMI status, as part of the BMI measurement system integrated into Wii Fit. Wii Fit is still capable of measuring the BMI for people aged between two and 20 but the resulting figures may not be entirely accurate for younger age groups due to varying levels of development”.

Despite this, the backlash against Nintendo and its Body Mass Index continues. Tam Fry, who represents the United Kingdom’s National Obesity Forum, stated that “I’m absolute aghast that children are being told they are fat. BMI is far from perfect, but with children it simply should not be used. A child’s BMI can change every month and it is perfectly possible for a child to be stocky, yet still very fit”.

Nintendo has announced that it does not plan to change the way the game displays BMI, since it is clear in the fact that it does not judge anyone, but only offers accurate data on the fitness level of the player.


Pro-Ana on Facebook

February 26, 2008

A news story broke this week that there is a clinic in Cheadle, UK, campaigning to get the pro-ana (Pro-Anorexia) groups out of Facebook. It feels like 2001 all over again. Check out the Sky News story along with some of our quotes for journos below and then take our poll below:

Should Facebook remove Pro-Ana groups?

1) Yes
2) No
3) This is the wrong question
4) Let’s ask the users
5) Phone a friend

View Results

Make your own poll

We have a few chapters on this subject in our new book, The Medicalization of Cyberspace (Feb, 2008) and Emma Rich has been focusing her recent years on these aspects of eating disorders and new media.

Our quotes for journalists:

“While we have no wish to promote eating disorders, we must be cautious not to respond to pro-ana sites as wholly dangerous. Calling for the removal of pro-ana spaces from Facebook will only obscure such communities even further.

As things stand, anyone can join these groups and the identities of users is much clearer than it is for other web spaces. So, if medics are concerned about the users within these communities, they stand a much better chance of offering support than they will by these groups existing in a lower profile webspace.

Rather than remove of these sites, we should be concerned more with the relationship between healthcare professionals and users of such environments. They offer spaces for intervention and support, which allow the concomitant avoidance of the traditional models of monitoring and regulation.

“It would be naïve to assume that people, especially young women, can be swayed into anorexia through social networking sites like facebook. All this does is further pathologise those experiencing the condition. If nothing else, these sites emerge from the desperate need for understanding and social support that these people seek. The content of these pro-ana networks varies greatly, in many instances one can find support from others experiencing an eating disorder.

We should also remember that these same arguments for their removal were used in 2001, when Google was urged to remove Pro-Ana sites from its search engine. What difference did it make, other than ensure that these communities were now out of our view? The users of these environments are far more capable of finding other spaces than regulators are at shutting them down.

Eating disorders are incredibly complex, damaging and isolating conditions, but often remain grossly unreported by those experiencing it. Many of the pro-ana users may not have sought help or reported their condition and facebook may be the only context in which they might be exposed to possible support. .

These spaces are also often the only context in which sufferers will talk about so openly about their experiences. There are few, other social spaces in their everyday lives where people experiencing anorexia can do this, without some form of censorship. Pro-ana sites may therefore offer us a greater insight in terms of helping us to better understand the condition. Anorexia is after all, experienced not simply as an illness, but as an identity, in this sense it is not surprising that communities are formed around it.

The sharing of stories through such environments is an integral part of the condition and so to call for a removal is simplistic and, potentially, more dangerous than their existence. The other point is about whether organizations like Facebook should be empowered to decide what goes on within its space and this level of censorship control extends their role considerably and makes them vulnerable to any high profile media campaign, which has been launched in this case.”

The New story from Sky
Social Sites Push Pro-Ana Beliefs

Site users seek starving advice

Site users seek starving advice

There is nothing new about so-called pro-ana websites that offer ‘thinspiration’ and suggest ways of hiding your problem from friends and family, but the advent of sites like Facebook has allowed groups to be set up very quickly and easily.

On one Facebook group, a user asks: “How can I convince myself not to be hungry?! I want to be thinner, a lot thinner!!”

On the discussion wall of another a member is looking for a ‘thin pal’.

“Anyone up for being weight loss penpals, sharing tips, that sort of thing?” she writes.

But this is not about a pound here or there. It is about fasting, starving, disappearing.


Internet gene tests provoke alarm

February 11, 2008

Story from Robin McKie in the Guardian last week…
Internet gene tests provoke alarm

Biotechnology checks for bipolar depression and schizophrenia will soon be sold over the web, despite warnings from leading psychologists

This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday February 03 2008 on p15 of the News section. It was last updated at 00:08 on February 03 2008.

Plans to sell genetic tests over the internet so people can find out if they are at risk of developing mental illnesses have been denounced by leading UK psychiatrists. They say the technology is still primitive and is only likely to worsen individuals’ emotional and mental problems.

The tests, which biotechnology companies will begin selling in a few months, will allow people to find out, by sending off a spittle sample, if they possess gene variants that increase their chances of suffering bipolar depression or schizophrenia. The information will help both patients and doctors, it is claimed.

But scientists argue that selling these tests on the internet is dangerous. The technology is still in its infancy and cannot yet help make helpful diagnoses.

‘These tests will only worry, confuse and mislead the public and patients,’ said psychiatrist Professor Nick Craddock, of Cardiff University. ‘There is a long way to go before we have genetic tests that may be helpful to patients. Using tests at the moment is only likely to cause harm.’

This point was backed by Professor David Collier, of the Institute of Psychiatry, London. ‘At best, these tests are clinically useless. At worst, their results could cause serious worries for patients.’

The tests are based on recent discoveries of gene variants that can increase a person’s chance of succumbing to depression or schizophrenia. Each variant raises a person’s risks by only a slight margin but if tests for several variants are combined, this creates a useful risk assessment for an individual, firms say.

As a result, several – including NeuroMark in Colorado, Psynomics in California, and SureGene in Kentucky – have developed tests based on these variants and are preparing to sell them for several hundred pounds a test on the internet.

For example, Psynomics has developed a test for pinpointing individuals at risk of depression. ‘This is going to be initially driven by patients,’ John Kelsoe, chief executive, told Science magazine last week.

But the usefulness of such tests was disputed by Dr Cathryn Lewis, also of the Institute of Psychiatry. ‘The general risk of developing bipolar depression is around one per cent. If you possess the worst set of gene variants, then your risk rises to three per cent. That means you are three times more likely than average to get bipolar depression. That may seem worrying but it is still a very low risk. It is still 97 per cent likely that you won’t get depression. People are not likely to realise that, however.’

Another test – to be marketed by NeuroMark, first in the US and later this year in Europe – is based on genes that predispose people to react badly to stress. If a person inherits this gene section from both parents, he or she has an increased chance of suffering from severe depression after stressful situations. ‘About 20 per cent of people have this combination,’ said Kim Bechthold, chief executive of the biotechnology company. ‘It is useful information to know.’

But if a person proves positive, what action can they take to avoid risk and counter the risk they face? ‘We suggest joining a choir, eating chocolate or buying a puppy,’ said Bechthold.

These ideas were dismissed by Craddock. ‘Life is stressful. You cannot avoid it. It is extremely unhelpful to tell people that they face a risk like that.’

In addition, scientists have found only a small number of risk gene variants for psychiatric disorders. Many more await detection, it is thought. ‘The trouble is that if someone takes a test which suggests they face no risk, they could easily think they can then do what they want,’ added Craddock. ‘They might start taking recreational drugs again, which would pose problems if they are prone to depression. Other risk gene variants might later be discovered and new tests developed. Then we will find these people actually have an inherent proneness to depression after all. It will be too late by then, however.'”


NHS on Facebook (1 Nov, 2007)

November 20, 2007

Details of a story breaking a couple of weeks ago:

NHS Trust uses Facebook to network with local people

A Yorkshire NHS Trust is the first in the country to use online social networking to engage with local people. South West Yorkshire Mental Health NHS Trust provides mental health and learning disability services to the people of Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield and has set up a Facebook group to encourage local people to get involved with the Trust.  The Trust is currently applying to become a Foundation Trust, a different type of NHS organisation based on local people becoming members. The Facebook group is somewhere where people can find out more about membership, as well as contribute to discussions around mental health and issues such as stigma. It allows people interested in the Trust to interact with each other and to make new contacts.

Chief executive Steven Michael said, “Everyone’s talking about Facebook, especially young people, so it seemed like a great opportunity to try and engage with local people. I hope it provides another opportunity for our communities to find out more about their local NHS and how they can have a say.”

“As we apply to become a Foundation Trust, we want to give local people as many ways as possible to get involved and find out about becoming a member. We are committed to trying out a variety of ways to connect with local people and Facebook allows us to do this online. It is especially important that we try different methods of reaching out to young people in ways that are familiar to them. We’d love to hear what they think about their local NHS and about how we can help people look after their mental health.”

Jude Corrigan, communications manager, set up the Facebook group and said, “The Trust’s Facebook group has been up and running for a couple of months and its membership is beginning to grow as it is promoted locally. Current members include Trust staff and local students. Anyone in the Yorkshire and Humber region can join the Trust as a member so in turn we hope that the Facebook group will be successful as more people learn about it. If you’re already on Facebook, why not look up our group and join us?” is one of a growing number of sites that offer ‘social networking’; an opportunity for people to connect with friends and others who work, study and live around them. People use Facebook to keep up with friends, upload photos, share information and join groups that interest them.

Jude added, “We’re happy we were the first NHS Trust to start using this new technology to engage with local people, it shows we’re a dynamic forward-thinking organisation who’s not afraid to try new ways of communicating.”

Anyone can join Facebook; they just need a valid email address. People who join have full control over how they share their information and who can see it and they can use their ‘privacy settings’ at any time to change this. To join the Facebook group either follow the link from or search for the group on Facebook, it’s called ‘With all of us in mind – our Foundation Trust’. For information about membership call 01484 343395.