Pentagon, VA Report Progress in Sharing Soldiers' Health Data

Officials from the U.S. departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Defense (DOD) on Wednesday testified before the Senate VA Committee about the progress of integrating the departments' information technology (IT) systems to help enhance the care of soldiers, Government Health IT reports. Specifically, the deputy VA secretary said the VA and DOD have taken steps to expedite the process for evaluating veteran disability claims and to share data between the departments. For instance, he noted that the departments have expanded the categories of medical data that can be shared, including allergy information, outpatient prescription data, physicians and clinical notes, problem lists, and radiology and laboratory reports. Commenting on the progress, the DOD undersecretary for personnel and readiness said that "by Sept. 30, we will be able to send back and forth any electronic record of medical data" (Mosquera, Government Health IT, 4/23/08).

Colorado law criminalizes e-mail spamming

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter on Wednesday signed a bill into law that criminalizes e-mail spam, the Denver Business Journal reports. Slated to take effect Aug. 8, the "Spam Reduction Act of 2008" will replace previous state law regarding unwanted commercial e-mail with rules that make it a misdemeanor crime under state law to violate the federal CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. In addition, the law enables spam recipients who can identify a sender and prove financial losses to seek to payment for damages of up to $10 million in civil court. Officials note the law aims to give authorities more ability to thwart senders of spam, which bill sponsors estimate at $70 billion in lost productivity and network management costs annually for all U.S. businesses (Denver Business Journal, 4/23/08).

BAE gets DARPA mobile network research project

BAE Systems Inc. has earned an $8.5 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop a secure mobile military communications network designed to protect against cyberattacks, Washington Technology reports. Awarded through DARPA’s Intrinsically Assurable Mobile Ad hoc Network program, the contract calls on BAE to develop and test network protocols that support the integrity, availability, reliability, confidentiality and safety of network communications and data. The Ad hoc Network program specifically targets the security challenges of mobile ad hoc networks, which are susceptible to passive analysis and manipulation by adversaries (Beizer, Washington Technology, 4/24/08).

CSC launches health business sector

Computer Sciences Corp. on Monday announced the creation of its new health care business unit, the Washington Business Journal reports. Specifically, the Virginia-based company established the new business unit to sell its information technology services to the health care industry. Housed under the department, the company will offer IT services including supply-chain and revenue-cycle management, claims processing, document management and clinical trial management. According to officials, the company’s "main focus will be delivering IT-based innovation that improves patient outcomes and the decision making of providers, payers and life sciences organizations" (Washington Business Journal, 4/21/08). 

Industry experts discuss nationwide health data network

Health industry experts met in Houston last week to discuss the creation of the nationwide health information network, the Houston Business Journal reports. The federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT is working with nine state and regional health organizations to create standards that will ensure secure networks can transfer information among health providers nationwide. According to the Journal, the rush to digitize health data in one location has created fragmentation of information. In his keynote speech, National Coordinator for Health IT Robert Kolodner noted that "if you don't have a network, you have silos of health information. And if you don't have standards, it's like the Tower of Babel." Addressing the issue, meanwhile, the University of Texas, the Harris County Healthcare Alliance and other community groups are collaborating on a pilot project called Health Quality and Interoperability Laboratory for Training. The project will help develop a "network of networks" for 50 clinics, emergency centers and primary care offices that treat indigent communities. According to officials, the technology is roughly just 20 percent of the challenge, while other issues include who pays for the information exchanges and how people will be trained to use it (Perin, Houston Business Journal, 4/18/08). 

Affordable laptop program scraps Linux for Windows

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) officials on Tuesday announced plans to transition from Linux to Windows XP for its XO laptops, The Inquirer reports. OLPC, the educational project which launched with the goal of providing small, cheap laptops for kids has been running its home-made Sugar application on Linux since its inception. However, OLPC chairman and founder Nicholas Negroponte on Tuesday told AP that Linux is not in the company’s future plans. The Inquirer goes on to question Negroponte’s decision, as well as point out that the OLPC is falling short of its goals, costing nearly double the original $100 per laptop and selling just 500,000, compared to the predicted millions of sales (Barak, The Inquirer, 4/23/08). 
 

Apple plans to acquire microprocessor designer

Apple Inc. on Wednesday confirmed reports that it plans to purchase five-year-old microprocessor designer P.A. Semi Inc. for a reported $278 million, Dow Jones Newswire reports. According to Dow Jones, the alleged total cost of the acquisition is merely a fraction of the $12 billion in readily available cash that Apple had on hand as of Jan. 17. Dow Jones adds that P.A. Semi creates and sells high-performance microprocessors that operate using very low power, making them a good fit for use in Apple's iPhone smart phone (Dow Jones Newswire/CNNMoney.com, 4/23/08). 
 

Stakeholders, vendors reassure lawmakers about EHR privacy

Health information technology (IT) stakeholders and vendors recently attended a Congressional briefing to dispel what they called "privacy myths" regarding electronic health records (EHRs), Healthcare IT News reports. Speaking at the forum, a board member of the Confidentiality Coalition and vice president of marketing at Greenway Medical Technologies said market forces make security a priority for the EHR industry, adding that health IT companies inherently gain from using the highest levels of security and encryption. Specifically, he noted that "people are scaring lawmakers about data flying around the Internet," explaining that the health IT industry "has spent hundreds of millions of dollars creating secure and encrypted solutions for use today." Meanwhile, an aide to U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) said that "privacy is paramount to the importance of health care IT, but it's not insurmountable." The aide added that, "as Congressional staffers, we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We can have EHR uptake without leaving patient privacy on the wayside." Moreover, the aide predicted that it would be difficult to pass stand-alone health care IT legislation this year, adding, however, that a health IT measure could be attached to a health care funding bill that would likely pass (Manos, Healthcare IT News, 4/21/08). 
 

Microsoft donates Xbox consoles to children’s hospitals

Microsoft on Wednesday said it plans to deliver hundreds of Xbox 360 kiosks to children’s hospitals across the United States, Macworld.com reports. According to Macworld, “the kiosks are set up with a variety of Y-rated TV programs, G-rated movies, and games rated E and E10+ by the ESRB. They come with headsets and Xbox Live Vision Cameras, and have been configured to communicate with other kiosks over a dedicated Xbox Live network designed specifically for this purpose — the network limits chat via voice, text and video to only those children playing from hospitals participating in the kiosk program.” Hoping to provide sick kids with a respite and a catalyst for fun, the company has partnered with a non-profit organization called the Companions in Courage Foundation, which builds interactive playrooms in hospitals to help kids connect with families and others, to coordinate the delivery of the kiosks. The first hospitals to receive the kiosks include Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian, Children’s Hospital & Regional Medical Center of Seattle and the Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California (Cohen, Macworld.com, 4/23/08). 
 

Kenyan patients seek health information, diagnoses via Web

Patients in Kenya are increasingly using the Internet to search for health information or research their diagnoses, Business Daily Africa reports. Kenyan physicians say the Internet has helped to empower patients, but patients also have become more difficult to treat. For instance, one physician who runs a private clinic in Nairobi said that "what patients fail to understand is that symptoms can be similar, but the underlying problem may be totally different," adding that, for instance, malaria and tuberculosis have "some similar symptoms but one cannot rule out either disease until laboratory tests are done." Meanwhile, a general practitioner at Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, says he reads online medical journals daily to stay informed and prepare for patients. Similarly, a private gynecologist at a women's clinic in Nairobi said he began taking online courses because his patients seemed more knowledgeable than him (Gachenge, Business Daily Africa, 4/23/08). 
 

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