Google unveils its Google Earth 4.3 with smoother 3D features

Google has updated its Google Earth mapping application, offering a 3D navigation system which the company claims is smoother and more natural for users, reports. The latest update adds new navigation tools including a modified zooming feature that ensures the 3D map view zooms in normally as users zoom in from a full-Earth view. As the view zooms closer to the ground, however, the perspective tilts in a manner that officials say simulates that of a person parachuting to the ground. And when the zoom level reaches ground, the program displays the 3D landscape in a view similar to that of a 3D game. Meanwhile, Google also has added a Street View feature to the Earth application, which was the subject of some controversy regarding privacy earlier this year. First introduced in Google’s online Maps application last year, the controversial application allows users to navigate by way of actual street photos. Additionally, Google Earth 4.3 will feature improved lighting for its 3D view, better rendering software designed to help the landscapes load faster, an image acquisition feature that lists the date when landscape images were taken, and an improved language pack that adds a further 12 translations (Nichols,, 4/17/08).

U.S. government agencies team with health care groups to boost public health surveillance

Federal agencies are increasingly working with health care organizations to bolster data collection and public health surveillance efforts, Health Data Management reports. For instance, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with the Philadelphia-based retail health clinic group Convenient Care Association to develop possible plans for syndromic data reporting. According to the association, many retail clinics use electronic health records systems and will likely serve roughly 3.5 million patients this year. Health Data Management suggests that this makes them ideal for both reporting syndromic data to surveillance systems, as well as perhaps distributing countermeasures in the event of an emergency. Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is collaborating with U.S. insurer WellPoint to develop a drug surveillance system that will scan the medical records of more than 35 million members in an effort to identify potential safety problems linked to FDA-approved medications. The announcement follows a Congressional mandate passed in the fall requiring the FDA to upgrade to a new, more comprehensive computerized system capable of scanning tens of millions of patient records for medication problems. Citing Government Accountability Office data indicating that the FDA captures less than 10 percent of adverse reactions to medications, the Wall Street Journal notes that insurers increasingly have been analyzing patient records for potential drug safety problems, instead of waiting for government-issued warnings. However, rather than re-creating its own system, the FDA plans to rely on a network of insurer and health system databases to follow up on signs of potential problems that were evident in preapproval testing but not significant enough to delay approval (Health Data Management, 4/16/08; Fuhrmans, Journal, 4/15/08 [subscription required]; Berkrot, Reuters, 4/15/08).   

California-based Intuit releases Web development program

Intuit Inc. on Thursday unveiled its new QuickBase Web development program in beta, the San Jose Business Journal reports. According to Intuit officials, QuickBase aims to help developers and independent software vendors "easily design, deploy and market on-demand collaborative and productivity applications to millions of small businesses." The vice president and general manager of Intuit QuickBase notes that the company is "now enlisting the help of an enormous community of talented developers to create innovative, rich Web-based solutions to important business problems." There program, which is free to join during application development, will provide developers building on the platform with the QuickBase Developer SDK, which includes the toolkit for Adobe Flex, a free QuickBase developer account and training resources (San Jose Business Journal, 4/17/08).

Federal grant helps Montana implement statewide HIE

The Health Information Exchange of Montana (HIEM) recently earned a three-year, $540,000 federal grant to spur the adoption of electronic health records statewide, Government Health IT reports. The federal Health Resources and Services Administration grant will support the purchase of hardware and the general operation costs of rolling out a statewide network, as well as personal costs related to HIEM. Government Health IT notes that the grant furthers work supported by a previously awarded Federal Communications Commission grant of $13.6 million, which is helping the state install fiber-optic lines to connect the network. Meanwhile, HIEM officials are working to implement the Informatics Corporation of America’s ICA Solution, which will create a central data hub of patient information for consortium members to access (Moore, Government Health IT, 4/17/08).

IBM proposes global security organization

IBM’s public-sector unit has called for the creation of an organization dedicated to coordinating public and private efforts to secure people and infrastructures worldwide, Washington Technology reports. Outlined in a new white paper, the IBM officials call for government and corporate leaders to collaborate via a Global Movement Management Organization on security and resilience in global aviation, cargo movement, immigration, travel, the Internet and other areas. Specifically, the paper, titled “Global Movement Management: Commerce, Security and Resilience in Today’s Networked World,” states that “the Global Movement Management Organization can serve to bring together key stakeholders with a shared interest in strengthening global movement systems and provide an effective forum and process to enable cooperation among regional, national and sector-specific stakeholders.” Building on ideas IBM introduced in 2005, the report addresses “vulnerabilities to asymmetric terrorist threats that could disrupt global supply chains and commercial and noncommercial human activities,” according to Washington Technology. One author, the vice president of public-sector strategy at IBM Global Business Services, suggests the main goal of the effort is to improve security and resilience by confronting emerging risks without harming commercial interests (Lipowicz, Washington Technology, 04/15/08).

CDC offers PHR recommendations to federal health IT group

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday delivered recommendations to the American Health Information Community's Consumer Empowerment work group on how best to promote personal health records (PHRs), Healthcare IT News reports. Specifically, CDC officials recommend that AHIC initially conduct market research to determine potential PHR users' needs, preferences and concerns. According to the director of CDC's Division of eHealth Marketing, the best way to promote health messages is to engage consumers online through virtual communities, podcasts and other Internet activities. She adds that federal PHR promotion efforts should consider the current level of satisfaction, how to gather quantitative data on performance through user testing, the level of mobility in PHRs and the literacy level of users. The CDC report also calls on AHIC to conduct research to assess the health impact of PHRs; determine who is using PHRs; use social media and other interactive online methods to engage existing and potential PHR users; test promotion plans on blogs to gauge public reaction; create a panel of social media leaders, PHR providers and marketers to collaborate on the promotion plan; and work with stakeholders early in the process (Manos, Healthcare IT News, 4/16/08).

Scientists produce magnetic nanoparticles

U.S. Department of Energy scientists at the department's Iowa-based Ames Laboratory recently reported they have successfully synthesized magnetic nanoparticles that could help with drug testing and delivery, United Press International reports. The researchers add that the nanoparticles may also prove valuable in magnetic inks, high-density memory devices or as magnetic seals in motors. According to the researchers, it is difficult to achieve commercial room-temperature synthesis of ferromagnetic nanoparticles because such particles form quickly, yielding “agglomerated clusters of particles with less than ideal crystalline and magnetic properties,” UPI notes. The researchers add that, as particles become smaller, their magnetic properties also weaken. As detailed in the journals ACSNano, Physical Review B and Advanced Functional Materials, the research suggests that several strains of bacteria produce magnetite (Fe3O4)—fine, uniform nanoparticles with desirable magnetic properties. UPI reports that “such magnetotactic bacteria use a protein to form crystalline particles about 50 nanometers in size. These crystals are bound by membranes to form chains of particles that the bacteria use to orient themselves with the Earth's magnetic field. The researchers mimicked the bacteria, eventually producing the synthetic magnetic nanoparticles” (UPI, 4/16/08).

U.S. health alliance unveils technology innovation research program

San Diego, Calif.-based Premier Inc. health alliance on Wednesday launched a new three-year initiative designed to help test health care technologies in the field, Health Data Management reports. Under the QUEST Supplier Innovation Program, 150 Premier member hospitals participating in the QUEST High Performing Hospitals Initiative will implement a number of new technologies selected by a multidisciplinary volunteer panel. The program is open to all suppliers, medical device manufacturers and other technical developers, and the panel will continuously accept new concepts to ensure the program remains current with the latest innovations. The Charter Member hospitals will test, validate and substantiate each product, measuring the effectiveness against QUEST-developed metrics that address mortality ratio, evidence-based care quality, efficiency, patient experience and harm avoidance. According to the president of Premier Purchasing Partners, the program will “track and test the efficacy and safety outcomes of new technologies from a cost, quality and efficiency standpoint.” Premier’s chief operating officer adds that the program’s goal, akin to the goal of QUEST itself, “is to provide a collaborative approach through which we can achieve rapid improvements in quality, and speed access to proven, safe and effective technologies” (Health Data Management, 4/16/08; Premier release, 4/16/08).

International group to develop open-source health IT tools

National health information technology (IT) programs in Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom are collaborating on an effort to create interoperable health IT tools and services, Modern Healthcare reports. The group—called Open Health Tools (OHT)—banded together in 2007 to promote interoperable health IT systems that use open-source tools and software. The group said its technical goal "is to assemble and/or develop" a series of tools to facilitate widespread use of electronic health records. Specifically, the group aims to provide "a platform and standard open interfaces together with reusable software components that can be assembled into patient-centered services and applications." Thus far, OHT has approved two charters for projects involving Health Level 7 messaging and to address security and privacy issues. Participants in the group include the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Health Administration; Canada Health Infoway; Connecting for Health program of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom; Health Level 7; IBM; International Health Terminology Standards Development Organization and Object Management Group; National E-Health Transition Authority in Australia; and Oracle (Conn, Modern Healthcare, 4/14/08).

Online service aims to help firms assess workers' health needs

A new Web-based service designed to help employers assess workers' health care needs and reduce health care costs launched on Monday, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. The service, called Limeade, will provide employers with online surveys to measure a number of health care issues within their companies. Specifically, the service aims to help employers develop new policies to cut health care costs, such as smoking cessation programs, but will not share workers' personally identifiable information with employers. Prior to the launch, Limeade tested its service with roughly 10,000 workers at 10 companies and has now begun charging for the service, which targets companies with 1,000 to 20,000 employees, in particular. According to Limeade’s founder and CEO, it will cost employers less than $2 per employee per month (Cook, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/14/08).

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