Networking for health

From the Fibromyalgia News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton

Written by Fiona Godlee, editor, British Medical Journal – fgodlee@bmj.com
(http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/337/dec29_2/a3153)

Contagion has been the curse of human health for centuries. Medicine has dedicated itself to preventing it. But what if diseases aren’t the only things that can be caught? What if good things can also be transmitted from one person to another—happiness for example? This is the hypothesis explored in this week’s BMJ.

James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis have been studying the effects of social networks for some time. Now using a unique data set—the Framingham Heart Study cohort—they’ve analysed 20 years of data on nearly 5000 people, including measures of happiness (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2338). Within this social network they found non-random clustering of happy and unhappy people. Could this be because happy people choose happy friends? Or is the effect due to confounding, as Ethan Cohen-Cole and Jason Fletcher suggest (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2533)? Or is it, as Fowler and Christakis conclude, a causative relation? I think they make a convincing case, as do (with some caveats) our editorialists (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2781) and commentary writer (doi:10.1136/bmj.a1957). So perhaps success should no longer be judged by how many friends you have in your social network, but how happy they are.

A different form of networking could spread health, and perhaps happiness, in the developing world. One Laptop per Child aims to give some of the world’s poorest children access to computers and the internet. Wondering what benefits there might be for health communication, Paul Fontelo and colleagues have tested the laptops in simulated developing world conditions (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2459). They were able to access PubMed and BabelMeSH (a multilanguage search portal for PubMed). They downloaded a 10 page pdf file with colour figures and tables. They read email and “chatted” with colleagues in other countries using Gmail. They sent clinical photographs and short movie clips. And they listened to the BMJ podcast (which, by the way, you can now get through iTunes every week: itpc://podcasts.bmj.com/bmj/feed/itunes). There were things they couldn’t do, but the potential benefits for medical education, telemedicine, and public health seem substantial.

With ever improving wireless access, software, and computer technology, the internet as a means of global communication is clearly better and greener than print. And it’s where we think the results of medical research belong. This may not seem a contentious statement, but there are still authors who like to see their work in print as well as online. The challenge for the BMJ is that we want to publish more of the good research we’re now receiving, and we want to give each study all the space and visibility it needs. Both things are possible online, with high usage, open access, and no word limits for BMJ research articles. Both are difficult in print if we want to find space for the many different types of content that print readers appreciate. So as Trish Groves and I explain (doi:10.1136/bmj.a3123), we’re trying out a new approach to publishing research, with a specially written abstract in the print journal (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2946), and the full text (with lots of extras) online (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2656). Tell us what you think.

Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:a3153

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About jeanne hambleton

Journalist-wordsmith, former reporter, columnist, film critic, editor, Town Clerk and then fibromite and eventer with 5 conferences done and dusted. Interested in all health and well being issues, passionate about research to find a cure and cause for fibromyalgia. Member LinkedIn. Worked for 4 years with FMA UK as Regional Coordinator for SW and SE,and Chair for FMS SAS the Sussex and Surrey FM umbrella charity and Chair Folly Pogs Fibromyalgia Research UK - finding funding for our "cause for a cure" and President and co ordinator of National FM Conferences. Just finished last national annual Fibromyalgia Conference Weekend. This was another success with speakers from the States . Next year's conference in Chichester Park Hotel, West Sussex, will be April 24/27 2015 and bookings are coming in from those who raved about the event every year. I am very busy but happy to produce articles for publication. News Editor of FMS Global News on line but a bit behind due to conference. A workaholic beyond redemption! The future - who knows? Open to offers with payment. Versatile and looking for a regular paid column - you call the tune and I will play the pipes.
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