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I’m a Celebrity Diagnosis, Get Me a Teachable Moment


By Kevin Davies

June 25, 2009 | Combining teachable moments with the power of celebrity, a husband-and-wife team of physicians in Boston has launched an informative and engaging new web resource and blog called CelebrityDiagnosis.com.

The idea to provide accurate and actionable medical information by capitalizing on the media’s fascination with everything celebrity belongs to Michele Berman, a retired pediatrician. Berman developed one of the first medical practice websites in 1997 and has experience writing columns for consumers for parenting magazines. Her husband is Mark Boguski, an MD affiliated with Harvard Medical School who recently launched his own health website, Resounding Health. (CelebrityDiagnosis.com was created using Resounding Health tools, Boguski points out.) A leading bioinformatician, Boguski has held senior positions at the NCBI, the Allen Brain Institute, and Novartis, and is a past Bio-IT World Expo keynote speaker, before branching out into web development.

The idea of CelebrityDiagnosis.com, according to Boguski, is to capitalize on the educational possibilities of medical information while it is in the news. “In medicine, when you’re training, you’re doing rounds on patients. When you’re a student, you have textbook and theoretical knowledge of the disease. But there’s a phenomenon called a ‘teachable moment’ in medicine, when you encounter a patient with an absolute textbook case of a disease and that becomes a time to transform book learning into tangible lessons that will last a lifetime,” Boguski told Bio-IT World.

Boguski continued: “It’s been thought in the past that teachable moments are fortuitous and unpredictable, but we feel that we can create a serial collection of teachable moments designed to inform consumers about their health and medical matters.”

Power of Celebrity

The power of celebrities to change medical thinking and funding is profound. Former First Lady Betty Ford’s discovery of breast cancer in 1974 and subsequent surgery immediately raised awareness of the toll caused by the disease, and led to significant increases in funding. Nancy Reagan’s diagnosis in 1987 was another major turning point, almost overnight triggering waves of volunteers that helped lead to the mapping of BRCA1 in 1990.

In other fields, one thinks of Michael J. Fox and Parkinson’s disease; President Ronald Reagan and Alzheimer’s disease; Michael Milken and prostate cancer; Lance Armstrong and testicular cancer, Freddie Mercury, Earvin Johnson and AIDS; and Stephen Hawking and ALS. Just this week, one of the Jonas brothers was testifying on Capitol Hill on behalf of type 1 diabetes research.

Berman and Boguski hope that CelebrityDiagnosis.com provides a richer vein of knowledge for the general public. The website publishes information on diseases and other conditions in the news, focusing on what the creators call “uncommon people from the worlds of entertainment, sports, business, government and politics, science and technology who suffer from medical conditions that do not respect fame or fortune and that can affect anyone.” In a statement, Esther Dyson, a healthcare investor in companies such as 23andMe, said: “I'm in favor of anything that will attract people's attention and give them some serious information along with the fluff.”

Casebooks contain authoritative information that can be forwarded and linked, even taken to appointments with a family physician. Examples include cancer, heart disease, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer's, accidental death and alternative medicine. Among the celebrities featured already – from D List actresses to Supreme Court Justices -- are: Elizabeth Hasselbeck, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bret Michaels, Susan Boyle, Natalie Cole, Lisa Rinna, Sergey Brin and Steve Jobs. In the past 48 hours, posts have featured the late Jerri Nielsen and David Carradine.

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