Health care group says data sharing can enhance health quality

The National Quality Forum (NQF) recently issued a brief calling for a stronger electronic platform for sharing medical information to boost health care quality, Modern Healthcare reports. According to the brief, which is part of a series started in 2007 to highlight issues related to quality, NQF supports an IT system that combines quality measures, clinical guidelines and decision-support tools. Officials note that physicians have expressed strong support for IT systems including electronic health records as a tool for collecting and analyzing quality data. She added, however, that doctors recognize the limitations of the technology. Meanwhile, to promote IT adoption, NQF is collaborating with federal agencies to establish standards for reporting on quality measures in health IT infrastructure (DerGurahian, Modern Healthcare, 4/8/08).

Nanotechnology may help spinal cord injury

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience notes that U.S. researchers have created a nano-engineered gel that can enable severed spinal cord fibers to regenerate and grow, United Press International reports. According to the Northwestern University researchers, spinal cord injuries usually lead to permanent paralysis and sensation loss because damaged nerve fibers cannot regenerate. UPI adds that, “although nerve fibers or axons have the capacity to re-grow, they don't because they're blocked by scar tissue that develops around the injury.” The nanogel developed at the university, however, hinders the formation of scar tissue and allows severed spinal cord fibers to regenerate and grow. According to UPI, “the gel is injected as a liquid into the spinal cord and self-assembles into a scaffold that supports new nerve fibers.” For the study, researchers injected the gel into mice with a spinal cord injury, and after six weeks the animals had a greatly enhanced ability to use their hind legs and walk. Though he acknowledges that tests on mice do not necessarily translate to outcomes for humans, the study leader notes that if the gel is eventually approved for humans, a clinical trial could begin within several years (UPI, 4/7/08).

EC calls on U.S. search engines to delete user data after six months

A European Commission (EC) advisory body recently suggested that major U.S. search engines delete data collected about their users after six months, CNet News reports. Published on Friday by a European Commission body known as the Article 29 Working Party, the a 29-page "opinion" focuses on advertising-supported search engines, as opposed to search functions embedded in Web sites. Backed by privacy groups, the Working Party has been pressuring Internet companies on the search data front for months, according to CNet. CNet adds that the recommendations do not officially serve as law, though they are expected to be adopted by the EC (Broache, CNet News, 4/7/08).

Microsoft posts software code information online

Microsoft on Tuesday announced that it uploaded to the Internet more than 14,000 pages of preliminary versions of technical documentation for underlying software code in its software programs, the Associated Press reports. Specifically, the protocols are built into Microsoft Office 2007, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007. Officials in February announced that it would publish the information so that rival programs could work better with Windows, Office and other major products. In its latest announcement, Microsoft said it will have published more than 44,000 pages of underlying code documentation (Martell, AP/Yahoo News, 4/8/08).

New Google tool maps refugees

Google Inc. on Tuesday released a new feature for its popular mapping program that tracks refugee movement around the world, the Associated Press reports. Designed to aid humanitarian operations, the maps will also help inform the public about the millions who have fled their homes because of violence or hardship, according to officials at the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which is working with Google on the project. With the new tool, users can download Google Earth software to view satellite images of refugees from such high profile areas as Darfur, Iraq and Colombia. In addition, the tool features information from the U.N. refugee agency detailing where the refugees have come from and what problems they face (Jordan, AP/Yahoo! News, 4/8/08).

Laptops may be able to capture quake data

Elizabeth Cochran, a seismologist at the University of California-Riverside, plans to soon invite the public to help monitor earthquakes through their laptop computers, United Press International reports. Cochran developed the "Quake-Catcher Network," which will make use of inexpensive motion sensors called accelerometers that are used as safety devices in most new laptops. According to UPI, “the project involves distributed computing—a method in which different parts of a computer program run simultaneously on two or more computers that are in communication with a central server over a network.” Cochran adds that "with a dense grid of detectors in place, an early warning can be sent through the Internet to neighboring cities should an earthquake strike, giving people up to 10-20 seconds to prepare themselves before the seismic waves reach them." Slated for release later this year, the program's software will be available at http://boinc.berkeley.edu (UPI, 4/7/08).

Google launches host service for Web developers

Google is offering to host developers’ enterprise web applications on its own infrastructure with a new tool called App Engine, IDG News Service reports. According to Google’s new App Engine blog, the company aims to make it easier to get started with a new web application and then make it easy to scale when that application begins receiving significant traffic. Specifically, App Engine is powered by Bigtable—a distributed storage system currently used by Google Earth service and by Google's own file system GFS. Launched on Monday, the tool is a preview release, which officials say is by no means feature complete, and will initially allow just 10,000 developers to sign up, though Google says that number will later increase. Meanwhile, IDG points out that App Engine will be competing with similar services such as Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud and Salesforce's Appexchange, “but it may be the cheapest, as Google's basic services will be free” (Ricknas, IDG News Service/New York Times, 4/8/08).

Scientists urge emissions action

A group of scientists says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underestimates the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, United Press International reports. Published in the April 3 issue of Nature, a research commentary notes that the government panel is "overly optimistic in assuming that, even without action by policymakers, society will develop and implement new technologies to dramatically reduce the growth of future emissions." Authored by researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado and McGill University in Montreal, the report adds that the panel needs to focus on the conditions necessary for innovations to occur. Specifically, the lead author says that, "according to the IPCC report, the majority of the emission reductions required to stabilize CO2 concentrations are assumed to occur automatically." He adds that, "not only is this reduction unlikely to happen under current policies, but we are moving in the opposite direction right now. We believe these kinds of assumptions in the analysis blind us to reality and could potentially distort our ability to develop effective policies" (UPI, 4/7/08).

Health IT efforts get boost at state level, report says

According to a report from government business research company Input, state governments are increasing their investments in health information technology (IT), and more governors are proposing state-funded health IT projects, Government Health IT reports. Based on Input data, the report found that 27 percent of governors who delivered state of the state speeches in 2008 mentioned the benefits of health IT, up from 14 percent in 2007. In recent years, governors have proposed health IT projects in states including Arizona, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, Vermont and Washington. Report authors note that governors may be pushing for health IT projects such as electronic health record, electronic prescribing or interoperable data bank initiatives because their state budgets are faltering. They add that increasing Medicaid costs could prompt more IT spending. Meanwhile, Government Health IT reports that part of this increase could be attributed to Medicaid Transformation grants that the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services awarded last year (McKinney, Government Health IT, 4/4/08).

Jive unveils Clearspace 2.0 business tool

Jive Software on Monday plans to announce the release of Clearspace 2.0—a toolkit for sharing information and making connections within a business or between a company and outside partners, CNet News reports. Using the tool, employees can create a space to share documents, view colleagues that are online, or participate in ongoing discussions. Version 2.0 also boasts a feature that enables employees to create their own pages to list projects they are working on and other staff they are working with. It also allows people to view company organizational charts. First launched last year, the product marks a departure from Jive's software for hosting Web forums. Jive’s CEO notes that the software is designed around people instead of files, making it a good complement—or even replacement—for SharePoint (LaMonica, CNet News, 4/6/08).

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