Hughes goes the distance with new network

The Defense Information Systems Agency and other agencies participating in the Government Education and Training Network (GETN) recently awarded Hughes Network Systems $2.6 million in task orders to create a distance-learning system for students at locations nationwide, including Alaska and Hawaii, Washington Technology reports. Under the contract, Hughes will provide an audio and video communications network for broadcast training through the General Services Administration’s Satellite Services II program. Officials note that Hughes’ network will use broadband satellite technology to broadcast compressed digital and audio distance-learning programs and support viewer-response systems, including audio conferencing and integrated voice and data systems. Washington Technology adds that the network also will meet agency-specific requirements including interactive television, streaming video and large file transfers. The task orders specify a minimum one-year performance period with four option years through Nov. 1, 2012. Meanwhile, Washington Technology notes that GETN participating agencies use a common satellite carrier to share distance-learning programs. Users include the Air Force, the Army, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Defense Logistics Agency, the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Park Service and the FBI (Walker, Washington Technology, 4/9/08).

SAIC tapped to build electronic dental records system

Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) will design and build an electronic dental records system to serve more than 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, Washington Technology reports. Potentially worth as much as $16 million, the federal General Services Administration’s Indian Health Service (IHS) Electronic Dental Record Implementation Support prime contract has a one-year base period and four one-year options. Under the award, SAIC will roll out an electronic dental record system that is compatible with other IHS systems. In addition, SAIC will provide program management, quality control, certification and accreditation, and business-process engineering services. According to Washington Technology, work will be performed at SAIC sites in San Diego and San Francisco, government facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and IHS facilities nationwide (Hubler, Washington Technology, 4/9/08).

Intel, Telefónica team to boost Internet access in Latin America

Intel Corp. and Telefónica SA on Wednesday announced they will partner to expand information and communication technology uses, as well as broadband Internet, in Latin America, The Business Journal of Phoenix reports. Designed to increase affordable technology and meet needs for home use and small- and medium-sized businesses, the work will build off Telefónica's existing and planned network and will broaden the use of wireless Internet access. In addition, the move will expand opportunities for Intel in Latin America (O’Grady, The Business Journal of Phoenix, 4/10/08).

CDC taps social media to enhance public health outreach

In order to better engage with the public, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expanding its use of social media, Healthcare IT News reports. Thus far, the CDC has tapped virtual worlds, podcasts, RSS feeds, social networking sites such as Facebook, widgets, chats and electronic cards. Noting that on Valentine’s Day 2008 more than 6,000 of its e-cards were sent with health messages, CDC officials suggest its early use of social media has helped establish a trusted, visible online brand among the public. For instance, across the last two years, the CDC has worked with a popular virtual world called Whyville to disseminate messages about seasonal flu vaccinations to youths ages 12 to 14. They found that in 2007 roughly 41,000 site users vaccinated their avatars within Whyville, including 1,800 seniors who play the game with their grandchildren. CDC officials note the site served as a vehicle for teaching both youth and adults about seasonal flu prevention, as well as raising awareness about other public health topics. Another project currently underway taps videos made by college students that are sent via cell phones to promote HIV/AIDS prevention, and officials note plans are underway to create similar videos about smoking cessation. To further broaden its reach, the CDC is exploring additional social media uses in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and plans to share its lessons learned with other federal agencies (Manos, Healthcare IT News, 4/8/08).

Scientists study Internet 'black holes'

University of Washington researchers say they are monitoring the Internet in order to provide a constantly changing map of the system's weak points including "black holes"—points where information disappears, United Press International reports. According to researchers, a proportion of the world's computer traffic ends up being routed into information black holes at random moments when a path between two computers exists but messages become lost along the way. Specifically, one researcher notes that "there's an assumption that if you have a working Internet connection then you have access to the entire Internet," adding, "we found that's not the case." The work will be presented next week in San Francisco during the Usenix Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (UPI, 4/9/08).

Surgeons use robots during heart surgery

Some U.S. surgeons suggest that using robots to assist in heart bypass surgery produces smaller incisions, less pain and fewer complications, United Press International reports. According to Dr. Robert Poston, Boston Medical Center is one of just nine U.S. hospitals to offer robot-assisted coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery. UPI notes that “CABG involves removing or re-directing a blood vessel from one part of the body, placing it around an obstructed artery, thereby restoring blood flow to the heart,” adding that “the robot-assisted procedure allows surgeons to gain access to the heart with several small incisions, unlike conventional bypass surgery that requires the chest to be opened with a 6-10 inch incision.” Poston says that through the small incisions between the ribs, the robot's arms, which mimic the movements of the surgeon's hands and wrist, and a small camera can provide a three-dimensional, 10-times-magnified image. The robotic instruments providing flexibility and precise motion control during the procedure. According to Poston, the use of robotics results in smaller scars, fewer side effects and complications, less pain and a reduced risk of infection, as well as faster recovery (UPI, 4/9/08).

Scientists boost T-wave availability

Tor Vergata University in Rome, Italy, is working with technology firms to boost the availability of Terahertz, or T-waves, for medical and security uses, United Press International reports. Researcher Aldo Di Carlo notes that T-waves are safer and more effective than X-rays in many applications. According to media reports, Di Carlo is leading an effort to create a T-wave booster called a Vacuum THz Amplifier. He notes that T-waves could be a safe alternative for situations including security in airport lobby areas (UPI, 4/10/08).

Research underscores benefits of health-related technologies

A new study tapping data from 11 research projects conducted by the Center for Connected Health in Boston demonstrates that connected health technologies can help patients manage their care, Healthcare IT News reports. Presented this week at the 13th annual telemedicine conference in Seattle, the study addresses various ongoing programs that provide additional evidence of the benefits of health technologies for patients, providers, employers and payers. Researchers at the center, a division of at Partners HealthCare in Boston, conducted the studies at Partners' affiliated hospitals, which include Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital. They found, for instance, that initial feedback from participants in the center's Connected Cardiac Care program, which provides non-homebound heart failure patients with home telemonitoring equipment to transmit their daily vital signs and symptom reports, was overwhelmingly positive. According to the center’s founder and director, Joseph Kvedar, 100 percent of the participants credited the program with improving their overall health and helping them avoid going to the hospital. In a separate study, researchers found that electronic communication between providers and patients outside of regular in-office visits aided diabetes management. Kvedar notes that these findings support repeated reports that “connected health technologies are empowering patients to take a more active role in managing their health” and helping providers offer more timely care and information to help improve patients’ quality of life. He adds that “the technologies are rapidly evolving, giving us increasingly consumer-friendly, simple and effective tools to deliver quality care outside of a medical setting”(Monegain, Healthcare IT News, 4/9/08).

IBM unveils new Mashup program

IBM on Tuesday announced its new Mashup Center, a program that combines a front-end tool for end-users and a server for gathering information, CNet News reports. Launching in beta on April 15, IBM Mashup Center consists of Lotus Mashups—which enable users to integrate information from different Web sites and present them on a single screen—and IBM InfoSphere MashupHub, a lightweight tool designed to help IT professionals prepare data feeds from different sources. CNet News notes that IBM will continue to sell the two products separately (LaMonica, CNet News, 4/8/08).

New York City mayor awards $27 million for EHR initiative

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s charitable foundation has pledged $27 million toward an initiative designed to help local physicians adopt electronic health records (EHRs) pre-programmed to emphasize disease prevention, the Washington Post reports. The $60 million project, also supported by state and local government funding, as well as donations from insurers and private practices, aims to roll out the prevention-oriented EHR to 1,000 physicians serving a total of 1 million patients by the close of 2008. To qualify for assistance, medical practices must prove that 30 percent or more of their patients are enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare. Commenting on the project, New York City’s health commissioner notes that the city’s motivation “is not to save money, it is to try to get more health value for our health dollars” (Brown, Washington Post, 4/8/08). 

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