CLOSE
iStock
iStock

App Can Help Non-Doctors Determine Cause of Death

iStock
iStock

About 55 million people die each year. Of those deaths, 35 million won't have a cause of death recorded, according to the University of Melbourne. A group of scientists hopes to change that with a new app that will allow non-doctors to record mortality data.

Cause-of-death statistics and other mortality data are vitally important for governments and experts developing public health programs. “Without accurate cause of death information, we can’t monitor disease and injury trends, we can’t keep track of emerging health problems and we don’t have any markers to show us whether programs and policies are actually working," co-creator of the app Alan Lopez said in a press release.

“So if you live in a country where no-one is dying from malaria, then why are you pouring money into malaria-prevention programs? And conversely, if people are dying from lung cancer, why aren’t you investing in tobacco control?”

Unfortunately, the countries most in need of aggressive public health programs are often the same ones lacking good mortality data. Doctors are stretched thin in poor countries, and the deceased may be the least of their concerns.

So why not take that responsibility off their hands? The new cause of death app consists of a simple, 25-minute symptom questionnaire that can be completed without medical training. Village officials, nurses, and family members of the deceased can fill out the survey and upload their results. An algorithm will determine the cause of death and issue a death certificate while capturing pertinent mortality data. The app can also store questionnaire responses until an Internet connection becomes available, which is an important feature in remote villages.

“I just came from Myanmar where every month, rural midwives send pieces of paper on cause of death through the mail,” Lopez told New Scientist. “Now, the idea is that they’ll send that information through tablets instead.”

The app is the product of 10 years’ work by Lopez and his colleagues around the world. The first step was to collect existing mortality data from hospitals in India, the Philippines, Mexico, and Tanzania. They compiled information from 12,500 cases with known causes of death and identified the 34 most common causes of death for adults and the 21 most common for children. The researchers interviewed around 100 families for each cause of death to determine how family members would describe the deceased’s symptoms. Working backward, the scientists created a questionnaire and algorithm that would yield a cause of death. They then built that algorithm into an app and took it to China, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Bangladesh for field-testing. The app proved to be remarkably accurate—even more so than doctors reviewing the same cases.

Lopez and his colleagues hope to roll out the app in 20 countries by next year. They are hopeful that their questionnaire can help communities and governments enact real change.

[h/t New Scientist]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
science
New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
iStock
iStock

Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Food
A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'
iStock
iStock

The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios