Pennsylvania to launch statewide health data exchange

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) on Thursday signed an executive order to create the Pennsylvania Health Information Exchange (PHIX), which will provide the information technology architecture necessary to support interoperable electronic health records and electronic prescribing statewide, Pennsylvania Office of the Governor/Biloxi Sun Herald reports. Part of the governor's larger Prescription for Pennsylvania health care reform plan, PHIX will enable physicians, hospitals, pharmacies and other authorized health care providers to share patient data captured at the point of care. In addition, officials expect PHIX to reduce duplicative tests and boost physicians' access to patients' prescriptions, laboratory tests, radiology exams and hospital discharge notes. According to Rendell, greater access to information will ensure that "less time will be wasted waiting for patients' charts and for processing referrals. And, reporting of vital statistics and diseases will be more efficient and complete" (Pennsylvania Office of the Governor/Biloxi Sun Herald, 3/27/08; Rendell's executive order).

Utah launches online database of patients' personal stories

The Utah Department of Health's Bureau of Health Promotion is launching an online database, called the Utah Health Story Bank, that enables consumers to post personal stories about chronic disease, healthy lifestyle changes, traumatic injuries or violence, the AP/Provo Daily Herald reports. According to a spokesperson for the bureau, facts and statistics are valuable, "but to really inspire people to make change, you need the human element." There is no limit on the number of stories that an individual can submit, and stories can address any chronic disease, injury or domestic abuse. All stories are screened prior to being posted for language and content ((Dobner, AP/Provo Daily Herald, 3/25/08; Government Technology, 3/25/08).

Kentucky college launches online computer, engineering masters programs

The University of Louisville is now offering two new online graduate degrees through its J.B. Speed School of Engineering, Business First of Louisville reports. The new degrees include a master of science (MS) in computer science and an MS in civil engineering with an emphasis in transportation engineering. Courses for the computer science MS will address algorithms, computer networks, databases, artificial intelligence, software engineering, distributed systems, advanced data warehouses, Internet applications, modeling and analysis, numerical analysis, performance evaluation, experimental design, digital image processing, simulations and data mining. Meanwhile, courses for the transportation engineering MS will include traffic engineering, environmental analysis of transportation systems, geometric highway design, global positioning systems theory and applications, geographic information systems applications in transportation, transportation planning and urban development, pavement design and fundamentals of intelligent transportation systems (Business First of Louisville, 3/27/08).

Wii remote adapted to military robot

Two U.S. Department of Energy scientists in Idaho have reportedly adapted technology from Nintendo's Wii remote to control a mine-clearing robot, United Press International reports. According to Sky News, the researchers, David Bruemmer and Douglas Few, adapted the video game controller, which harnesses wireless technology that detects three dimensional movement, to control Packbot—a robot with bomb disposal capability. The researchers note that operating the Wii remote is more instinctive than traditional controllers, which can take too much of the user's attention and prevent the operator from concentrating fully on data gathered by the machine. Meanwhile, the researchers also are working on adapting the Apple iPhone to help soldiers more efficiently collect data from robots, New Scientist reports (UPI, 3/27/08).

USDA unveils Web-based personalized nutrition planner

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion recently released a free online tool to help users assess the nutritional value of their diets, USA Today reports. The tool compiles data on a user’s age, gender, weight, height and level of physical activity to calculate recommended calories, grains, vegetables, fruit, milk and protein consumption. In addition, the tool offers what experts call realistic tips for reaching these goals, which are based on the USDA’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines, as well as choices for how to achieve or maintain a healthy weight. Meanwhile, USDA officials later this year plan to introduce additional tools that will specifically target the dietary needs of nursing mothers and children ages 2 to 5 (Terwilliger, USA Today, 3/26/08).

AHRQ tool compares state-level care quality improvements

The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) on Wednesday added new features to its online tool that provides state-specific care quality data, AHA News Now reports. Based on data from the 2007 National Healthcare Quality Report, the State Snapshot tool includes summaries of health care quality and statistics on 149 care quality measures encompassing a range of common conditions. It also provides state rankings for 15 targeted quality measures. The new features, meanwhile, include a section on “state contextual factors” that details state-specific demographics and a section on states’ progress toward achieving goals of the federal Healthy People 2010 initiative as well as data on diabetes care and disease-prevention strategies (AHA News Now, 3/26/08; AHRQ release, 3/26/08).

Alliance seeks public comment to define six health care IT terms

For the second time in two months, the National Alliance for Health Information Technology (IT) is seeking public comment on draft definitions for certain health IT terms, Healthcare IT News reports. Two alliance workgroups are considering definitions for the terms "regional health information organization," "health information exchange (HIE)," "electronic medical records (EMRs)," "electronic health records (EHRs)" and "personal health records." Thus far, the group has made a distinction between the terms EMR and EHR: EMRs are created and maintained by individuals from one organization, such as a hospital, while EHRs are an aggregate of patient records from more than one health organization. In addition, the group revised its definition of HIE to cover only the process of electronic exchange, not the governing entity. As a result, the group is seeking comments on names and definitions for a sixth term to describe the governing entity of an HIE. The alliance, tasked with the project by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, is working with Bearing Point to define the terms (Monegain, Healthcare IT News, 3/25/08; Ferris, Government Health IT, 3/25/08; Health Data Management, 3/25/08).

Health Web site raises safety, privacy concerns

Some physicians worry that a Web site for patients with chronic conditions, which provides users with data on other patients' treatment regimens and experiences, will lead patients to self-medicate or self-treat, the New York Times Magazine reports. The site, called PatientsLikeMe, includes data on more than 7,000 patients with diseases such as Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis and AIDS. The site's members provide quantitative data about their experiences, symptoms and treatments, which then is compiled by the site's software and turned into graphs and charts, though members can provide more specific details in the site's forums. Similarly, members can update their mood status every hour on a scale from very bad to very good and see the resulting data mapped across time. Physicians, however, are concerned that patients could misinterpret the data, find false hope, or try unproven and risky treatments and dosages, according to the Times. In addition, the Mag points out that, because PatientsLikeMe is an opt-in service and not a health care provider, data is not protected by HIPAA medical privacy rules. Although the Web site's privacy policy warns users that sharing data carries risks, the Times notes that its "Openness Philosophy," prominently displayed on the site, states, "when you and thousands like you share your data, you open up the health care system.” It continues, “we believe that the Internet can democratize patient data and accelerate research like never before." While the head of the American Medical Association's Board of Trustees acknowledged the potential benefits of such a Web site, he suggests there should be national regulations that cover companies like PatientsLikeMe (Goetz, New York Times Magazine, 3/23/08).

Adobe launches free, Web version of Photoshop

Adobe Systems on Thursday unveiled Photoshop Express—its long-awaited Web-based image editor designed to offer consumers a simple way to touch up, share and store photos, CNet News reports. Available for free with 2 gigabytes of storage at www.photoshop.com/express, the program is a “significant departure from Adobe's desktop software business and a big bet that it can make money offering Web services directly to consumers,” according to CNet. CNet adds that “the application, which needs Flash Player 9 to run, pushes the limits of browser-based applications and will likely ratchet up the competition on the dozens of free and online photo-editing products available now” (LaMonica, CNet News, 3/26/08).

Comcast, BitTorrent partner for Internet traffic management effort

Comcast on Thursday announced it is partnering with file-sharing service BitTorrent Inc and "the broader Internet and ISP community" on "a collaborative effort" to address a growing dispute over the liberties Internet service providers can take to manage traffic moving over their networks, Reuters reports. Under the agreement, Comcast said that by the end of 2008 it will adopt a new technique for managing capacity on its network, adding that its new practices would be "protocol agnostic." Comcast’s chief technology officer notes that "this means that we will have to rapidly reconfigure our network management systems, but the outcome will be a traffic management technique that is more appropriate for today's emerging Internet trends" (Kaplan, Reuters, 3/27/08).

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