British health IT program saves money despite some delays

British health officials said that the U.K.'s National Health Service information technology (IT) project will likely save 1.14 billion pounds -- roughly $2.3 billion -- but that the savings could have been higher, BBC News reports. According to the BBC, the 10-year project aims to link more than 30,000 general practitioners to nearly 300 hospitals by 2014. Yet, the program has been running roughly two years behind schedule, and the system's electronic health records and online physician appointment systems have seen the worst delays, the BBC reports. British officials said the program has saved 208 million pounds -- roughly $419 million -- by March 2007 because of the broadband network that has made progress with digital imaging and scanning for NHS (BBC News, 3/14/08). 

Pentagon plans coordinated health data surveillance center

The U.S. Military Health System is combining a number of its health information technology (IT) systems and merging staff to establish the new Armed Forces Surveillance Center, which will work to enhance the health of military personnel, Government Health IT reports. Specifically, the center will analyze health surveillance data, provide information on known and potential public health threats, and respond to disease outbreaks. In addition, the center will coordinate investigations and assessments and ultimately combine several U.S. Department of Defense IT systems. According to the center's provisional director, the organization will provide actionable information to commanders, policymakers, planners and health care providers in order to aid the health of military service members (Buxbaum, Government Health IT, 3/13/08).

Colorado foundation grants $6 million to boost health IT adoption

The Colorado Health Foundation on Wednesday announced plans to donate $6 million to an initiative designed to spur health information technology (IT) adoption throughout the state, the Denver Business Journal reports. The Healthy Connections Health Information Technology Initiative provides computer hardware and software to physicians, clinics and groups that care for low-income, uninsured state residents. The foundation in 2007 also made an initial contribution of $2.5 million to support the initiative’s efforts to help safety-net providers adopt health IT (Denver Business Journal, 3/12/08).

CDC grants aim at using RHIOs to share public health data

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently awarded three contracts worth $38 million to support data sharing plan development among health information exchanges and regional health information organizations (RHIOs), Government Health IT reports. The CDC announced the awards as a compliment to a program led by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, which is launching trial implementations for the Nationwide Health Information Network. Among the recipients, the Indiana University School of Medicine received $10 million across five years to continue its work with the Regenstrief Institute, the Marion County Health Department and the state health department on tracking disease outbreaks by monitoring data from the Indiana Health Information Exchange. Science Applications International, meanwhile, received $8 million across five years to support an undisclosed project (Ferris, Government Health IT, 3/12/08).

NIH considers plan to create DNA, health information database

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) this spring will begin developing plans to establish a "biobank" of DNA and health information with data from roughly 500,000 U.S. residents collected through a series of town hall meetings, interviews with community leaders and a national survey of 4,000 residents, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Scientists currently collect DNA from families with histories of certain diseases to help identify patterns, as well as from large health care providers such as Kaiser Permanente, which collect DNA and health information from patients. The biobank, however, would "offer a far richer treasure trove of data" than such efforts because of the "vast and diverse population" in the U.S. and could "help reveal now-hidden links between genes, lifestyles and the environment," according to the Mercury News. The director of the National Human Genome Research Institute adds that the biobank would help scientists determine the medical significance of differences in human DNA. Commenting on the plan, some scientists suggest that the biobank is a "long shot" because of the cost, which they estimate at "billions of dollars," and because of the current lack of protection against genetic discrimination, the Mercury News reports (Krieger, San Jose Mercury News, 3/11).

Scientists track nanoparticles in 3-D

U.S. scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology have developed an orthogonal microscope that can track nanoparticles in three dimensions, United Press International reports. According to the researchers, the design allows nanotechnology researchers to track the motions of nanoparticles in solution as they about within three dimensions. Presenting this week in New Orleans during a meeting of the American Physical Society, the researchers say they hope the technology, which the institute plans to patent, “will lead to a better understanding of the dynamics of nanoparticles in fluids and, ultimately, process control techniques to optimize the assembly of nanotech devices,” UPI reports (UPI, 3/12/08).

AOL acquires U.K. social networking site

AOL announced plans to purchase U.K.-based social networking site Bebo, a Facebook and MySpace rival, for $850 million, the Washington Business Journal reports. Founded in 2005, Bebo has 100 employees operating out of its headquarters in U.K., as well as San Francisco and Austin, Texas. According to the statement, the company plans to launch in five countries this year. Meanwhile, the Journal notes that the merger is part of the AOL's “transition away from dial-up Internet as it aims to get a slice of the competitive social media market and to grow internationally” (Killian, Washington Business Journal, 3/13/08).

Bill Gates urges U.S. lawmakers to help boost wireless Internet access

Bill Gates of Microsoft Corp. on Thursday called on U.S. communications regulators to free up vacant television airwaves that could be used for wireless services such as broadband Internet access, Reuters reports. Appearing before a Northern Virginia technology group, Gates said the so-called "white space" spectrum could be used to expand access of wireless broadband service using Wi-Fi technology. Responding to one question, Gates noted that the change could help Wi-Fi “explode in terms of its usage, even out into some of these less dense areas [of the United States] where distance has been a big problem for Wi-Fi." U.S. broadcasters and makers of wireless microphones, however, oppose the idea, citing fears that Wi-Fi devices would cause interference. A spokesperson for the National Association of Broadcasters said that the "broadband penetration could be drastically improved through a fixed, licensed service without interference to TV reception. Unfortunately, Microsoft continues to push for an unlicensed technology that simply does not work" (Kaplan, Reuters, 3/13/08).

ICF to support EPA’s clean-air division

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently awarded ICF International Inc. a five-year, $42 million contract to provide modeling and analyses services for EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division, Washington Technology reports. According to Washington Technology, the Clean Air Markets Division develops market-based regulations and creates emissions trading systems that aim to cost-effectively reduce air pollutants. Under the contract, ICF will perform modeling and analyses of potential climate change policy in the electric utility sector. In addition, ICF will use its power sector modeling tool—the Integrated Planning Model—to “examine the costs and market effects of alternative carbon trading policies and programs and their impact on consumers, businesses and industry,” according to Washington Technology. ICF also will provide expertise in climate change, acid rain, mercury deposition, sector-based energy and air emissions initiatives, and other areas (Hubler, Washington Technology, 3/12/08).

Heart implant could be hacked, study finds

A team of U.S. computer security researchers found that a heart defibrillator-pacemaker combination is vulnerable to hacking, United Press International reports. The New York Times on Wednesday reported that University of Washington and University of Massachusetts researchers were able to reprogram the device to shut down and deliver potentially fatal jolts of electricity. In addition, researchers said they could intercept patient data by "eavesdropping" on signals from the wireless radio embedded in the implant designed to allow doctors to monitor and adjust the device without surgery. Published on Wednesday at www.secure-medicine.org, the study suggests that the hundreds of thousands of people with implanted defibrillators or pacemakers should not worry about hackers, particularly because the experiment required more than $30,000 worth of lab equipment and a continuous effort to interpret the data from the implant's signals. Additionally, the device the researchers tested—a Medtronic defibrillator-pacemaker—was proximate to the test gear. Commenting on the study, the researchers said results indicate that developers should pay more attention to security in medical implants with communications capabilities (UPI, 3/12/08).

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