Interoperability issues hinder electronic data sharing

Despite substantial progress in standardizing electronic reports from labs, gaps in interoperability remain and labs have no way of ensuring that their messages are being received by the intended recipients, Government Health IT reports. Across the last few years, technical standards have varied from the Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes (LOINC) to the EHR-Lab Interoperability and Connectivity Standards (ELINCS). Now, the industry is tapping Healthcare IT Standards Panel's Interoperability Specifications. According to the president and CEO of the Indiana Health Information Exchange, "if every vendor used ELINCS, we would be close to being able to interoperate, but still these other things keep turning up." Asenior director at General Dynamics IT's HHS Group, meanwhile, said a national patient identifier or an agreement on a common coding scheme could aid interoperability. However, gaps also exist in the standards that define how information should be transmitted between labs and physicians, Government Health IT reports. Most labs rely on the Health Level 7 standards to send their messages, but other options include sending messages via the Web, File Transport Protocol or virtual private network. Though they note that the health care industry is years away from developing a national consensus on standards, experts suggest the largest barrier is a viable financial model to spur the adoption of standards and tools to enable interoperability (Robinson, Government Health IT, 5/19/08).

Researchers investigate use of 'living computers'

U.S. researchers have created 'living computers' by genetically altering bacteria, a finding that opens the door for improving various applications such as data storage and genetic engineering, Science Daily reports. Researchers from the biology and mathematics departments of Davidson College in North Carolina and Missouri Western State University in Missouri added genes to Escherichia coli bacteria, creating bacterial computers able to solve a classic mathematical puzzle, known as the burnt pancake problem. Science Daily explains the problem, which in brief involves stacking pancakes that are burnt on one side so the largest pancake is on the bottom and all pancakes are golden side up in the fewest number of flips. In this experiment, the researchers used fragments of DNA as the pancakes and added genes from a different type of bacterium to enable the E. coli to flip the DNA 'pancakes'. Lead researcher, Karmella Haynes notes that "a single flask can hold billions of bacteria, each of which could potentially contain several copies of the DNA used for computing. These 'bacterial computers' could act in parallel with each other, meaning that solutions could potentially be reached quicker than with conventional computers, using less space and at a lower cost." According to Science Daily, bacterial computing, in addition to parallelism, "also has the potential to utilize repair mechanisms and, of course, can evolve after repeated use" (Science Daily, 5/20/08).

Tech groups unveil new DNS server

A group of experts on Tuesday released an open source alternative to the BIND DNS server software that boasts higher performance and better security, Network World reports. Called Unbound 1.0, the new DNS server is a recursive DNS server, which is used by ISPs and enterprises to support DNS look-ups by users. According to Network World, "DNS is the feature of the Internet that matches domain names with IP addresses, and it is used for Web browsing, e-mail and Internet-based telephony." NLnet Labs, VeriSign, Nominet and Kirei. NLnet Labs, a nonprofit research firm based in The Netherlands, released Unbound and will provide ongoing support for the software (Marsan, Network World/CIO, 5/21/08). 

Nanotubes may cause cancer, researchers find

Scientists delivered a warning Tuesday about nanotechnology, releasing the first study to link carbon nanotubes to mesothelioma, the AFP reports. In experiments on mice, researchers led by Ken Donaldson of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, exposed the mesothelium lining, which covers the lungs, abdomen and heart, to nanotubes measuring billionths of a meter. The nanotubes—microscopic, needle-like fibers that are already in commercial use—led to the same kind of inflammation and scarring, called granulomas, that are caused by exposure to asbestos. Published online in the British journal Nature Nanotechnology, the research suggests only that so-called long carbon nanotubes caused the pre-cancerous symptoms, indicating that further experiments are necessary to determine if short nanotubes are entirely safe. According to researchers, The biggest potential danger is probably in the work place, but nanotubes might also escape into the environment once the products containing them wind up in landfills. Noting that "we don't have enough evidence to call for a moratorium, but there is very urgent need to for action to ensure safety, by government and by industry," Maynard adds that additional researchers is necessary to determine whether the particles can be breathed in from air, and if they can migrate to within the lungs to cause cancer (AFP, 5/20/08).

U.S. group releases final definitions for key health IT terms

The National Alliance for Health IT on Tuesday released a final report with consensus definitions for six key health IT terms, AHA News reports. Funded by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, the project aims to clarify terminology used in health IT policy, regulation, contracts and other initiatives. Specifically, the report defines Electronic Health Record, Electronic Medical Record, Health Information Exchange, Health Information Organization, Personal Health Record, and Regional Health Information Organization. In addition, the report includes a summary of the deliberations and conclusions of the two work groups that established the definitions and explains how adopting the definitions could boost health IT interoperability (AHA News, 5/20/08; Health Data Management, 5/20/08). 

Group launches collective effort to address programming best practices

The Multicore Association recently launched an effort to define best programming practices for embedded multicore processors, the EE Times reports. With the goal of releasing a report within a year that addresses problems in the growing arena of parallel software, the group will start by holding an open meeting at the Design Automation Conference in Anaheim on June 10 to garner broad input on the issues. The group will focus at least initially on issues using C and C++, though officials note they will likely address issues such as how to tackle code dependencies, inter-process communications and race conditions. Participating companies include Freescale, Imperas, Intel, Nokia Siemens Networks, PolyCore Software, Texas Instruments and WindRiver (Merritt, EE Times, 05/22/2008).

HP launches environmentally-friendly consumer solutions program

PC World today reported that Hewlett-Packard recently unveiled its new HP Eco Solutions program, which it touts as helping consumers and business leaders "identify HP initiatives, products and services designed with the environment in mind." The program includes product labeling that lists "the environmental attributes of a specific product, tool or service;" increased energy efficiency via devices that power themselves on and off to save electricity; and various printing calculators and assessment tools that tell users how much energy is being used and how to cut back in certain areas. (Aamoth, PC World, 5/22/08; HP release, 5/22/08).

Air Force to boost use of RFID

Air Force medical centers are taking steps to expand their use of RFID-based asset tracking applications to include tracking of lab specimens, medications and possibly patients, Health Data Management reports. Working with Shipcom Wireless to review the use of RFID systems, the Air Force also will test new applications at Kessler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. Meanwhile, Shipcom also will use its Hospital Operational and Clinical Assessment model to offer a baseline assessment of RFID implementations at the Air Force medical centers before issuing recommendations on how the Air Force can most effectively use RFID and related technologies to improve patient care and make clinical processes more efficient. Additionally, the vendor will implement its x/Care suite of RFID-based health care applications for new systems at Kessler Medical Center that reflect the recommendations and can be replicated at other military hospitals (Health Data Management, 5/20/08).

Group plans to propose new top-level Internet domains

Later this year, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) plans to launch the process for proposing a new round of "generic" top-level domains (gTLDs)—strings such as .net, .gov and .org meant to indicate organizations or interests, Science Daily reports. In preparation, ICANN reached out to various algorithm developers to "provide an open, objective, and predictable mechanism for assessing the degree of visual confusion" in gTLDs. Responding to the request, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology developed an algorithm that may guide applicants in proposing new gTLDs. As new gTLDs are added to the familiar .com, .info and .net strings, the algorithm checks whether the newly proposed name is confusingly similar to existing ones by looking for visual likenesses in its appearance. According to Science Daily, "having visually distinct top-level domain names may help avoid confusion in navigating the ever-expanding Internet and combat fraud, by reducing the potential to create malicious look-alikes" such as .C0M with a zero instead of .COM (Science Daily, 5/20/08).

Cell phones can boost health care delivery, researchers find

Researchers are finding that cell phone technology can help boost health care delivery, the Boston Globe reports. For instance, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Nokia Research Center Cambridge are using existing wireless networks to create technology that could connect specialists and emergency responders. With the technology, specialists could guide emergency responders in beginning treatment and better prepare themselves for when the ambulance arrives. The researchers hope to launch a field trial of the technology this year. Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless last month announced plans to offer a service called Pill Phone that would allow people to access drug interaction information over their phone and schedule medication reminders. In another study, researchers at the Center for Connected Health in Boston and area hospitals sent daily text messages to dermatology patients informing them of the weather and reminding them to apply sunscreen. Researchers then used a special monitoring cap for sunscreen that is wired to send a time-stamped text message to a database every time the tube is opened to measure compliance. In San Francisco, meanwhile, SexInfo, a sexual health hotline that targets teens in the city, helps teens locate clinics and basic information via text messages (Johnson, Boston Globe, 5/18/08).

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