Sickness alert app might not improve health

This blog was written by M.J. Johnston, a valued member of Kate’s blog team.

Is a health alert app really healthy? @Glowimages

Is a health alert app really healthy?
@Glowimages

There’s a new APP promoting itself as an aid to your health.  Sickweather.com is described as an on-line social health network with sickness forecasting and mapping capability.  The description on their website reads, “Just as Doppler radar scans the skies for indicators of bad weather, Sickweather scans social networks for indicators of illness, allowing you to check for the chance of sickness as easily as you can check for the chance of rain.”  I recently visited the site and the alert read, “common cold, fever and cough are going around in (my town)”.

Currently, the alerts are at a township level, but Sickweather.com has plans for an app which will provide alerts when in the vicinity of a sick person.  Picture this.  Just as you are walking into a Starbucks or the grocery store, you receive an alert to let you know someone there has had a fever. Do you halt; decide to do without that double macchiato or even groceries for the day?  In addition, the app intends to provide a list of ailments and real-time personal risk levels (displayed via a chart like the TSA terror-alert colors) of the likelihood of contracting different sicknesses.

So, you ask, how is this accomplished?  The company indicates that it is done through a “patent-pending algorithm.” It may be mathematically complex but it’s pretty easy to understand. Sickweather.com scans social networks, i.e. Twitter and Facebook to find postings which include mentions of ailments.  Put simply, if sickweather.com finds lots of people in a particular geography posting the word, ‘flu’, they raise the red flag for anyone who has the app who also happens to be associated with those same networks of people.

Graham Dodge, founder and CEO of the disease-tracking site, sees Facebook as possessing groundbreaking advancements in science.  In his view, tweets and Facebook posts about sickness not only serve as a reliable source to track illness, but can provide an accurate prediction of the next flu season.

Is there not, though, another possible impact this app will have that could affect our health – but in a negative way?

There is today abundant evidence of the influence thinking has on health.  Lissa Rankin, M.D. a well-known physician and author recently wrote in “Psychology Today”, “Understand that fear sells and you’re being manipulated.  The advent of cable news as entertainment and internet news at your fingertips has transformed us into a fear-driven society, terrified of things that are relatively low-risk.”  Her blog concludes, “As it turns out, fear and anxiety make you sick, and courage heals”.

New Yorker Journalist, Gareth Cook, reinforces the need to be alert to information shared via the internet in his article entitled, “The Nocebo Effect:  How We Worry Ourselves Sick” (April 3, 2013), “The larger problem lies outside the clinic: the Internet has become a powerful—and, to some, irresistible—nocebo dosing machine. In another day, it took weeks or even months for a person to gather enough reading to become very, very afraid. Now one can achieve a state of dread in a few short hours, surrounded by the comforts of home.”

This Increased awareness concerning the role our thinking – and especially fear – play in our health is encouraging. The link has been known for a long time. Prominent Christian healer and health expert Mary Baker Eddy shared these thoughts about it in the latter 1800s in a book entitled, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “You embrace your body in your thought, and you should delineate upon it thoughts of health, not of sickness.”

Given Eddy’s, Rankin’s, Cooks and many others’ insights, perhaps a better health app than the Sickweather.com to have would be one that gives us a daily reminder of courage, health and joy. There are many out there such as:

A couple which I enjoy daily are:

You won’t find alarming predictions of illnesses on any of these apps, but you will find inspiration and encouragement to get your day started on a fearless and healthy note.

For those who are still intrigued by sickweather.com and decide to use it, perhaps you’ll be the friend who, when alerted to someone not feeling well, ignores the alert to ‘stay away’ and rather, responds with an email of encouragement, a ‘thinking of you” card or a bowl of chicken soup and hug!

Mary Jane (M.J.) likes to blog about health, spirituality, science and religion and the impact prayer and spiritual care have on the mind-body-spirit connection.  M.J. is a former executive with a Fortune 10 company and is a Christian Science practitioner and a member of the Christian Science Committee on Publication for Maryland blog team.