United States, Mexico collaborate on disease surveillance

U.S. and Mexican officials on Tuesday reaffirmed their commitment to collaborate on border health efforts including disease surveillance, the McAllen Monitor reports. Under a signed agreement, the United States-Mexico Border Health Commission will continue developing a planned early warning infectious disease surveillance system. Officials are constructing containment laboratories in Mexican border states and establishing data-sharing systems to enhance information exchange, disease containment, outbreak identification and individual case tracking. One HHS officials says the countries expect their data sharing system to go live by next year (McEver, McAllen Monitor, 3/4/08).

Canadian telemedicine program links cancer patients with physicians

Rural patients in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, are participating in a telemedicine program that remotely delivers clinical cancer services via videoconferencing technology, the St. John's Telegram reports. A recent evaluation of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teleoncology Program found that 90 percent of its 120 participating cancer patients reported being satisfied with the initiative, while physicians reported that the program has reduced their travel time and enabled them to see more patients more often. In addition, the program has demonstrated that the technology is sustainable and transferable to other areas of health care. Based on its success, the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information is using the project's clinical component to develop a provincial telehealth program that will provide remote services for diabetes, kidney disease, mental health, neurology and other care areas (Bartlett, St. John's Telegram, 3/6/08).

Apple unveils beta iPhone 2.0 software

Apple Inc. on Thursday previewed its iPhone 2.0 software for select developers and enterprise customers, the San Jose Business Journal reports. Slated for public release in June, the software includes the iPhone Software Development Kit and new enterprise features such as support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync to provide over-the-air push e-mail, contacts and calendars, as well as remote wipe. In addition, it features San Jose-based Cisco Systems Inc.'s IPsec VPN for encrypted access to private corporate networks. Officials also said the company has licensed Microsoft’s Exchange ActiveSync and is building it into the iPhone for connection out-of-the-box to Microsoft Exchange Servers 2003 and 2007, according to the Journal. According to Apple, the new features will compete with Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry for business customers (San Jose Business Journal, 3/6/08).

Missouri legislature passes bills to create prescription drug database

The Missouri House and Senate have approved separate bills to establish a prescription drug database that would track prescriptions for controlled substances, the AP/Springfield News-Leader reports. Designed to reduce “doctor shopping,” both bills ease the process of tracking drugs and require pharmacists to keep an electronic purchase log for certain cold medicines that can be used to make methamphetamines. Under the bills, pharmacists also would have to record and submit the patient's name, address and birth date, as well as the type of drug, dosage and whether it is a refill or new prescription. To alleviate privacy concerns, the House bill includes a provision that would only allow data from the registry to be accessed during on-site inspections or after complaints. Meanwhile, the penalty for people who release data without authorization under the Senate bill would be a misdemeanor, while under the House bill the violation would be classified as a felony (Blank, AP/Springfield News-Leader, 3/6/08).

U.S. report finds spike in information, communication technology spending

According to a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. businesses spent $250.7 billion on information and communication technology equipment and computer software in 2006, up 6.3 percent since 2005, the Birmingham Business Journal reports. In the three categories of noncapitalized spending on e-business infrastructure, the Census Bureau's Information and Communication Technology Survey found that purchases of equipment totaled $18.6 billion; operating leases and rental payments totaled $18.2 billion; and computer software expenditures totaled $54 billion. The largest share of noncapitalized computer software expenditures totaling $30.7 billion, meanwhile, went for purchases and payroll for developing software, and the remaining $23.3 billion covered software licensing and service/maintenance agreements. Researchers based their findings on annual data related to noncapitalized and capitalized business spending for information and communication technology equipment and computer software. According to the Journal, “noncapitalized expenditures are expenses for assets with extended life spans and are written off in the same year in which they are made,” while “capitalized expenditures are costs for assets that have a useful life of more than one year and are usually depreciated.” Commenting on the findings, report authors note that the spending surge has been driven by frequent equipment upgrades based on rapid technological advances, the full cost of which many companies write off during the year, instead of allowing it to depreciate across two or more years (DeButts, Birmingham Business Journal, 3/6/08). 

Hospitals preparing for addition of patient survey data to CMS Web site

Hospitals nationwide are currently reviewing the preliminary results of patient satisfaction surveys slated for publication later this month on the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Hospital Compare Web site, the San Antonio Express-News reports. Nearly all hospitals have conducted the voluntary Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems following CMS’s decision to tie 2 percent of facilities’ Medicare reimbursement to participation in the effort. The standardized survey asks patients 27 questions about their hospital experience including the physician and nurse communication skills, the quality of discharge instructions received, pain control, and bathroom assistance received. In addition, the survey asks patients to rate the facility overall on a scale of zero to 10. According to the Express-News, CMS plans to post the new information on March 28 (Finley, San Antonio Express-News, 3/5/08).

Virginia EHR project aims to boost preventive care delivery

Virginia Commonwealth University this fall will launch a pilot e-health program designed to enhance preventive health care delivery, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. The three-year project, supported by a $1.2 million federal grant, involves a Web-based system that references patients' electronic health records (EHRs) to help physicians offer more preventive health services. Specifically, the project will target 18 areas of care including cancer screening, health behaviors, immunizations and medication use. Under the program, patients answer a series of health questions on the secure My Preventive Care Web site. The site then will automatically check the answers against patients' EHR data and alerts physicians to recommended preventive services such as mammograms or flu shots. In addition, the site will provide patients tailored health advice, links to outside resources and decision tools, and help assessing individual risk for conditions such as heart disease and breast cancer. Participating physicians and patients also will evaluate the system, helping researchers determine whether it increases the delivery of recommended preventive services and improves patient knowledge, physician-patient communication and shared decision-making. This September, project organizers plan to enroll 5,500 patients treated by eight physician offices within the Virginia Ambulatory Care Outcomes Research Network, which uses a common EHR platform (Hostetler, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/6/08).

CDC, Military Health System partner to improve disease surveillance

The Military Health System (MHS) and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are collaborating to boost disease surveillance through a system that use military sick call data to track outbreaks of infectious diseases, Government Health IT reports. Under the project, MHS medical treatment facilities send Standard Ambulatory Data Records to its data repository, where the health records are processed to eliminate personal information. The CDC, which uses embedded software to transform the data into a compatible format, receives records on individual clinic visits every four hours via File Transfer Protocol. According to CDC Director Julie Gerberding, the data allows the agency to track seasonal influenza and other diseases. Gerberding notes that, "by aggregating the [individual U.S. Department of Defense] records into population-level data, we are able to develop situational awareness of infectious disease outbreaks," adding that the data is monitored on a geospatial basis, enabling the CDC to “be more sensitive to events and respond to them earlier” (Buxbaum, Government Health IT, 3/6/08).

Adidas, Samsung release mobile phone with fitness coaching capabilities

Adidas and Samsung on Thursday announced the launch of a mobile phone that works with Adidas shoes and apparel to plan, track and motivate users in training can coach, the Associated Press reports. Specifically, the MiCoach product directs and motivates users during workouts by combining a mobile phone, heart rate monitor, stride sensor, MP3 player and the voice of an electronic "personal coach." According to the AP, the device this month launches in European retail stores for $304 to $608, depending on the service plan, and its U.S. release is slated for 2009. U.S. pricing has not been set. Meanwhile, Adidas will offer specially designed equipment and clothing for consumers to attach MiCoach and the heart monitor to themselves. The sensor can be attached to any shoe. The AP also notes that MiCoach is slightly more expansive than its competitors because it includes a mobile phone and a camera. It also helps runners set goals and then reach them by monitoring their heart rates and telling them when to slow down or speed up to meet a goal for distance, fitness or calorie burn. Its main competition is said to be Nike and Apple's Nike+—a wireless system that enables Nike running shoes embedded with a sensor to communicate with Apple's iPod Nano. (Skidmore, AP, 3/6/08).

IT hiring expected to rise in North Carolina, nationally, survey finds

According to a Robert Half International Inc. survey, companies will boost hiring of information technology (IT) professionals in the second quarter, the Charlotte Business Journal reports. Based on the responses from 200 chief information officers (CIOs) randomly sampled from Charlotte-area companies with 100 or more employees, the survey notes that 13 percent of CIOs in the Charlotte area plan to add IT staff during the quarter, while 4 percent forecast staff reductions. That yields a 9 percent net hiring increase, up from the 7 percent forecast in the first quarter. Meanwhile, using data from 1,400 chief financial officers across the nation, researchers found that 12 percent of CIOs expect hiring increases in the second quarter nationally, compared to the 10 percent first quarter projection. The executive director of Robert Half Technology notes that "companies are investing in new initiatives and technologies such as server and network virtualization, voice-over-Internet protocol and feature-rich, Web 2.0-type Web sites," adding "these investments are leading to greater demand for information-technology professionals with experience in these areas"  (Charlotte Business Journal, 3/5/08).

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