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).

U.S. and Pakistani schools sign agreement

The University of Texas-Austin has announced plans to partner with Pakistan's Aga Khan University for special science research collaborations and student exchanges, United Press International reports. The five-year agreement also includes special events, lectures, secondary teaching training programs and faculty exchanges. Specifically, the partnership will target research addressing science and technology joint research and training, health sciences and human development (UPI, 4/16/08). 

Massachusetts extends HIE pilot

The Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative is extending an electronic health record (EHR) and health information exchange (HIE) program that piloted in three Massachusetts towns from June until January 2009, Health Data Management reports. Funded through a $50 million Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts grant, the program includes 130 physician practices in Brockton, where an HIE was implemented roughly one year ago, and Newburyport and North Adams, where HIEs are currently rolling out. According to the collaborative’s president and CEO, enough funding remains to help participating physicians join their local HIE by June and to cover the costs of the HIEs through December. By January 2009, however, physicians and participating hospitals will have to finance and support the EHRs and HIEs themselves. To help with the transition, officials note that the collaborative is working to establish sustainable HIE business models within the communities. In addition, the Massachusetts Legislature is considering a bill that would provide $25 million in annual funding to support the development of a statewide HIE (Health Data Management, 4/14/08).

A new artificial nanomaterial is created

U.S. and European scientists have created an artificial nanomaterial for use in electronic applications, United Press International reports. As described in the journal Nature, the new material was developed through a collaboration of the theory group of Professor Philippe Ghosez at the University of Liège, Belgium, and an experimental group of Professor Jean-Marc Triscone of the University of Geneva, Switzerland. In addition, Matthew Dawber of Stony Brook University's department of physics and astronomy is part of the continued effort to make and understand such revolutionary artificial materials. According to UPI, Dawber says “the nanomaterial -- a superlattice that has a multilayer structure composed of alternating atomically thin layers of two different oxides -- possesses properties radically different compared to either of the two materials by themselves. The new properties are driven by interactions at the atomic scale at the interfaces between the layers.” The researchers note that their findings underscore the possibility to create radically different materials by engineering on the atomic scale (UPI, 4/15/08).

Washington State college launches biotech institute

The University of Washington-Bothell has announced plans to establish a Biotechnology and Biomedical Technology Institute (BBTI) to serve as a forum for the local biotech industry, the Puget Sound Business Journal reports. Plans for BBTI spurred from work by the city of Bothell and local businesses to develop a "Bothell Biomedical Manufacturing Corridor," which was designated an Innovation Partnership Zone by the state. A statement from Gov. Chris Gregoire's office notes that the areas "receive special access to state funding and resources that otherwise might not have been available." According to UW Bothell officials, BBTI will "provide a range of information, educational opportunities, and research and serve as a forum for scholars, business and government leaders, students, and citizens to meet, exchange information, and learn from each other" (Puget Sound Business Journal, 4/14/08).

AT&T rolls out business Web hosting service

AT&T has unveiled a new slate of Web hosting services for small- to medium-sized businesses, the San Antonio Business Journal reports. Through the new service, AT&T is helping small-business owners either build a new Web site or improve an existing site, sell products or services online, establish and online community, manage company e-mail, distribute digital content, host a gaming server or run a host of business applications. Specifically, “AT&T Web Hosting Virtual Dedicated Server and Managed Dedicated Server products are designed for organizations that need more than shared server space and applications but aren't large enough to justify investing in a complex multiserver environment prevalent in enterprise or large business hosting,” according to the Journal. As the program rolls out, AT&T will provide dedicated bandwidth to Web sites, as well as market various standard server plans for companies that run both Microsoft Windows and Red Hat Enterprise Linux platforms. In addition, AT&T design experts will work with business owners on issues such as copywriting, blog and forum integration, database development, search engine optimization and electronic shopping cart capabilities (San Antonio Business Journal, 4/15/08).

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