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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 4/22/21

April 22, 2021 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments

Clinical informaticists and genomics experts are excited about the recent announcement that the US will spend $1.7 billion to create a national network to track coronavirus variants. The main components of the plan include funding to help the CDC and state health agencies expand gene mapping; identification of six academic centers to research gene-based surveillance; and creation of a National Bioinformatics Infrastructure for sharing and analysis of data around emerging pathogens. The proposed budget is significant in that it provides funding to build systems for the future, not just for the current crisis. I look forward to seeing the transformative discoveries that could be produced by this kind of initiative.

Healthcare workers have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it’s physically, emotionally, or economically. A research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association looks at symptoms and functional impairments tjat are found in healthcare workers who had mild cases of COVID-19. More than a quarter of patients who had the disease had at least one moderate to severe symptom that lasted for at least two months, while 15% reported at least one moderate to severe symptom that lasted for at least eight months. The most common symptoms were fatigue, shortness of breath, and change in the senses of taste or smell. The study mentioned in the letter did have some limitations, but since healthcare workers became infected on the leading edge of the pandemic, they do make an interesting research population. It will be interesting to see the percentage of subjects who continue to have long-term symptoms and what kinds of interventions might help people recover more quickly.

The American Medical Association offers up some tips on how physicians can improve their telehealth skills. The issues they cite, such as eye contact and lighting, continue to be problematic, not only for physicians, but for many of the video meetings I attend on a daily basis. With this in mind, I offer up Dr. Jayne’s tips for successful video calls:

  • Make sure your camera is stationary. Use a stand, prop it up, put it on a table, but don’t let it move during the call. I continue to get vertigo when people’s cameras are bouncing around, particularly when it’s obvious they have their laptop balanced on their thighs. The worst is when people walk around the house with the camera on. Pro tip: no one wants to see your laundry baskets.
  • Ensure that the camera is at a good height for eye contact. I’ve seen up enough people’s noses in the last 13 months that I’m considering a second career as an ear, nose, and throat specialist. I also can recognize the office spaces of many of my colleagues just by their ceiling fans.
  • Figure out your lighting and your background. If you’re sitting in the shadows, it can be distracting. Having a window behind you isn’t generally a good idea unless you have an additional light source in front of you to balance it out. You don’t have to buy anything special – I’m repurposing a floor lamp that I purchased for sewing to help even out the lighting when I get too much natural light coming from the wrong direction.
  • Check your microphone. Look at the audio settings within your meeting app and make sure your microphone isn’t set so low that it can’t pick up your voice. Experiment with background noise reduction settings if excess noise is an issue in your workspace. Some of the conferencing platforms have added fairly sophisticated settings that can allow you to adjust these settings with some specificity. I recently attended an all-Zoom musical recital, and you could really tell who followed the instructions to configure their accounts and who didn’t.
  • Keep any battery-powered accessories charged and have a backup plan. I’m so tired of people’s headsets dying on afternoon calls.
  • If you’re going to use in-app backgrounds, make sure they work technically and professionally. Some app/background combinations cause weird video artifacts like hairstyles disappearing or making it look like you’re just a disembodied face. Consider neutral choices – although being on the bridge of the Enterprise might seem cool, your clients might not share your enthusiasm. If using personal pictures or designs for backgrounds, make sure they’re professional. I recently saw a “taco Tuesday” themed background that was highly offensive and had to have a sidebar conversation with the presenter.
  • If you’re going to share your screen, make sure you understand how it works if you have multiple monitors, multiple windows, or multiple apps open. If you’re sharing a video with sound, be sure you know how to make it work. Practice is a good idea! And to be safe, make sure any browser tabs that you don’t want the audience to see are closed. I’ve seen more than my share of cringeworthy content, including a couple of things I will never be able to unsee.
  • By this point in the game, it should go without saying: LEARN HOW TO USE THE MUTE BUTTON. We all have those moments where we forget to unmute ourselves and wind up talking into the void, and I understand. I’m with you. But when the lawn service appears outside your window or family members have invaded your space, be considerate enough to mute before someone has to ask you to do so.

Of course, this last bullet point goes for non-video calls as well. If you’re not sure about making the most of your conferencing tools, don’t be shy about asking for help. Especially if your struggles negatively impact the meetings you attend, your co-workers will be grateful.


Many of us in healthcare IT are science nerds in general and have been watching the adventures of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter in anticipation of the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. After a delay during a test sequence, the four-pound helicopter took flight on Monday. Although Ingenuity’s first flight was only 39 seconds, that’s three times longer than the first flight undertaken by the Wright Brothers. The helicopter paid tribute by carrying a piece of fabric from the original Wright flyer. Science is cool, y’all.

What scientific advancements do you think hold the most promise for humanity? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. I like your video tips. My tip is to get a 20 dollar microphone headset. Mine is the Britney Spears kind that goes over one ear and makes me look like a dweeb. But the audio quality is substantially better and there is much less non voice noise.

  2. About the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars. That thing has to fly completely autonomously!

    I’ve been wondering about how hard that is. I mean, autopilots are a thing here on Earth and they’ve been available for a long time now. And I think there are autopilots for helicopters too, though I’m not certain.

    What did it take NASA to get a viable autopilot for Ingenuity? Is this something they could buy off-the-shelf, from commercial vendors? Did NASA build one entirely on their own? Or did they tap commercial expertise and co-develop something?

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