Royal Conference Report

June 7, 2009 by

Lofty title …but not so I’m afraid. there will be better reports than I could hope to give from others…especially if they actually attended any of the talks or workshops. 

Did you go to any? Dont be shy to give us your view on what it was like …especially if there is a link to MHISIG/tech in psychiatry. 


we did have a committee meeting on the 4th of June at 12:45. Justin was taking minutes and a fuller account will appear later but the main thing was that a new committee was elected/affirmed as follows:

Chair: Justin Marley

Treasurer: Omer Moghraby

Communication/Blogging Gurus: Fionnbar Lenihan & Gurpal Gosall

Secretary: Prashant Kukkadappu

International Representative: Zia Nadeem

Congradulations and good luck!

We would welcome further contributions and ideas from anyone out there willing to participate. Look out for another MHISIG event at the next General Adult Facutly residential and more blogs sooner!!!

The Death of The PDA

December 16, 2008 by

Those of you who are regulars at the MHSIG / CIPSIG workshops at the Annual General Meeting of the Royal College may (fondly?)  remember the PDA workshops Matt Evans and I used to facilitate …

Charlie Stross thinks the PDA is dead, its functions having been eaten away by Netbooks (cheap little laptops) and by mobile phones.  He has some good arguments.  See his post here.

There’s been a fair bit about PDAs over the years in various health informatics books for the general readership.  It might be that they have certain advantages for doctors, especially psychiatrists.  I found that the ability to take them into secure environments like prisons helpful (something you can’t do with any device which has a mobile phone).

What do people think?

Fionnbar Lenihan

The New TV

December 16, 2008 by

I turned on the TV the other day expecting the obedient screen that has been with me since my childhood.  I wasn’t expecting to be told to wait until the BT box had finished updating its software (well firmware).

What next?  Antiviral software for the toaster?


BT vision updating its firmware

BT vision updating its firmware

Simulating a Brain

November 26, 2008 by

IBM has announced that further to its work in simulating a mouse brain, they will be leading a project to simulate a brain as complex as that of a cat. There are five US universities also involved in this project which will involve using biological data to inform computer models. Models of this type should have potential benefits for psychiatry although higher cortical functions in humans are another order of complexity yet. Models of this type might be particularly useful in making psychopharmacological predictions rather than phenomenological experience.

Google and Microsoft and healthcare

September 19, 2008 by

The recent announcements that 10 Dutch hospitals are to install Google Health and Microsoft Health Vault applications to replace the Dutch government’s Electronic Patient Dossier (EPD) have brought to many people’s attention that Microsoft and Google have been fairly quietly working on their own health care computer systems. For those of us working within the NHS, it’s easy to think the ceiling is Connecting for Health (CfH). Even within the NHS the limitations of vendor specific solutions are becoming apparent and the recent paper ‘A NHS Logical Health Record Architecture: Vision, Objectives and Success Criteria‘ from the CfH Standards Consulting Group suggests alternative approaches are being sought. One such solution could be the openEHR Foundation which as the name suggests is using open standards to create an EHR architecture based on international standards (ISOs).

Back to Google and we should be clear this blog isn’t an advert for Google or Microsoft for that matter. The Google Health approach is very much centred around the patient’s involvement in viewing and editing their medical record. This is one of the reasons given by the Dutch hospitals for choosing these products over the government’s offering. I have spoken to people recently who think it’s absolutely right the patient should be involved from the start in designing their medical record. There are however those that take a different view. Clearly Microsoft and Google wield much power and influence. Should they decide to adopt the openEHR model they will I’m sure be unstoppable.

Information Security in the NHS

September 11, 2008 by

A recent study has been published in the Health Services Journal about security of information in the NHS. The authors found in their survey of 105 doctors, that 92 had memory sticks and only 5/72 of those with confidential patient information on were password protected. The survey highlights a trend in the use of mobile computing or computing-associated devices in health services. This is certainly an area which needs attention and a health informatics bill which incorporates security may be a solution. The difficulties with such bills are that they would need to be revised frequently in response to rapid developments in IT. In summary, this survey highlights an important issue which needs to be addressed.


The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the content of external sites that are linked to within this blog.

Chrome Discomgooglation

September 2, 2008 by

I’ve just downloaded Chrome and am using it while writing this. Chrome was easy to download and install. It was also easy to start learning how to use it. The folks at Google have linked to their very own You Tube videos, short enough to stop the attention wandering. Some of the videos weren’t available at the time of writing – maybe there were too many people trying to access them. The key difference from Internet Explorer and Firefox is as far as I can tell the search box which doubles as an address bar – a neat economical move. The other difference is that individual windows are separated by tabs which I presume are separate programs. They’re supposed to add security to the system, ensuring that a crash in one tab doesn’t affect the other tabs.

So in summary, in Chrome it should be easier to manage crashes and also easier to search. I’ve been running it now for about 15 minutes. Would I switch from Firefox? I’m not sure. I can’t find a highlight button here. It can be very useful in firefox when your tracking through a lot of text. Also, I haven’t figured out how to get the bookmarks to show up – i’m somehow used to seeing the bookmarks organised in a directory structure in the scrolldown menu.

All of this brings me neatly onto the next topic – discomgooglation. I mean what? Yes that’s right – there’s a new word with six syllables and it basically means that you get a bit frustrated/confused when your away from the computer. I sincerely hope this term doesn’t find it’s way into ICD-11 as i’ll be creating another word ‘discomdiscomgooglationion’ in protest (the frustration at not being able to use big words). Imagine having to write that in the notes!

What has all this got to do with psychiatry. Well it’s actually pretty straightforward. Google is changing the world! Society is operating differently as a result of big companies like Google, Microsoft, IBM and Apple. Google is introducing new software at a remarkable pace and this new software is getting bigger and better. People’s demands are being met instantly – find me an answer, update me on the news, find the nearest garage, a holiday etc. Google is squarely at the centre of this new cultural shift thanks to the efficiency of its programming and information infrastructure and its delivery of free products and services to people.

That means that by combining the monitor, keyboard and mouse we can meet more of our goals than ever before (perhaps). With access to a world of knowledge at our fingertips presented in ever more appealing ways, there is less incentive to move offline. The big question is whether or not this shift in behaviour represents society ‘playing’ with a new technology until it moves onto the next thing or whether there is really a culture which is becoming ill. The question is increasingly being addressed by psychiatrists and will undoubtedly be at the cutting edge of research in the next ten years. The last question is – will chrome draw us close enough to the internet to warrant its own term ‘chrome discomgooglation’. Watch this space.


The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor.

Google Android

August 30, 2008 by

Google are releasing a new version of a software developers kit for their mobile operating system Android. Android 1.0 is due to be released later this year.

Why is this relevant for psychiatry?

Google has introduced a paradigm shift in the way that people use the internet and the term ‘google’ has even become incorporated into the Oxford English Dictionary. Google’s operating system which can be used in mobile phones may herald a cultural shift in the use of these devices. The Blackberry for instance has already had a profound impact on how some people work. To give two examples. If Android makes it easier for developers to produce software, we may see a large increase in software applications available for mental health professionals ‘on the move’. The development of social networking applications for mobile phones means that people would have new ways to build and maintain relationships.


The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor.

Neural Networks – An Introduction – Part 1

August 29, 2008 by

The title of our blog ‘The Neural Network’ is very fitting as it’s synonymous with one of the most successful forms of artificial intelligence and one which is based on biology!

I thought it would be a good idea to write a series of articles introducing readers to neural networks as i’ll be looking at some of the applications and developments in psychiatry in articles to come.

What is a Neural Network? – An Example of a Competitive Network

A neural network structure is one which allows a computer to ‘learn’. The neural network can exist in a hardware or software format – the software forms are considerably easier to produce. There are several types of neural networks that are possible, all learning in slightly different ways. In this article, I will focus on a competitive neural network to explain some general principles. Consider figure 1 below.

Neural Network

Neural Network

Figure 1

There are two layers of cells – layers A and B. Cells in layer A are connected to cells in layer B through synapses. The idea behind the learning process is elegant and was formulated by the briliant psychologist Donald Hebb in the late 1940’s:

‘Cells that fire together wire together’

Suppose that all three cells in layer A fire at the same time and that this pattern of firing represents a sensory input – for arguments sake, let us suppose that it is seeing part of a circle.

What happens next is that the cells in layer B get a number of inputs. A lot of assumptions take place but again for the sake of simplicity, suppose that the total input to each cell in layer B is equal to the number of synapses from firing cells. We can see that the top cell in layer B has 2 inputs, the middle cell 3 inputs and the bottom cell 1 input. So the middle cell has the highest number of inputs.

The next assumption is that the ‘winner’ i.e. the cell with the highest number of firing inputs, then stops all the other cells in the layer from firing – a process referred to as competitive inhibition. The synapses to the winning cell are strengthened. The biological equivalent to this synapse strengthening has been suggested to lie in the process of long term potentiation.

The winning, middle cell in layer B, will now fire more strongly when the same pattern is produced in layer A cells. This ensures it is more likely to win when the same pattern is produced. In effect, the middle cell in Layer B has ‘memorised’ seeing part of a circle and we can call it a ‘part of a circle’ neuron.

So what does all this mean?

Through this process, we can see that at higher levels within this feedforward network (feedforward just means that information moves forward along the network), neurons encode more abstract forms of information. This is a possible mechanism for how ‘mirror neurons’ might exist for instance which have been suggested to be the neurobiological basis for empathy – and of course their inputs would be considerably more complex than the example above. Essentially however, we have a biologically plausible mechanism by which groups of interconnected neurons can learn either from environmental inputs or else from internally generated stimuli. Needless to say, such a model has implications for every area of psychiatry.


August 28, 2008 by

Welcome to The Neural Network Blog brought to you by a team of psychiatrists with an interest in software and gadgets that help improve people’s mental health either directly or indirectly.

We’ll be covering lots of new technologies and looking at how this might be shaping mental health services in the future.

Please leave feedback and let us know if there is anything you think we should be reviewing. We hope you enjoy this blog


The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor.


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