Hacker’s application frees iTunes downloads for use on non-Apple music players

The hacker known as DVD Jon, famous for cracking DVD encryption and enabling consumers to make copies of movies on their computers, recently announced a new program that can undo the iTunes/iPod connection, the Times Online reports. The application, released by a company called DoubleTwist, breaks the DRM encryption built-into some iTunes tracks. Ultimately, the program enables users to drag and drop songs form iTunes into a desktop folder and then copy the files for use with other brands of MP3 players. Currently, only iPods can play music from iTunes. Though DoubleTwist maintains the software is legal, experts expect Apple to soon file suit against the company (Richards, London Times Online, 2/20/08).

Study finds e-mail enhances communication between patients, surgeons

According to a study in February’s Archives of Surgery, providing patients with e-mail access to their surgeons improves perioperative communications, HealthDay reports. To study patient-provider communication tools, Australian researchers studied 100 patients who were undergoing elective thyroid or parathyroid surgery. Though all patients received their surgeon’s e-mail address, half of the patients received an information sheet listing e-mail as the surgeon’s preferred communication method, while the other half received a standard information sheet with no such statement. Overall, 26 patients initiated contact with the surgeon, including 38 percent of patients who received the information sheet promoting e-mail and 14 percent of those who had not. In addition, 22 of those initiating contact used e-mail, 3 used a fax and one patient contacted the surgeon by telephone. E-mails on average addressed a single issue, though some addressed as many as four issues. Researchers found that the type of communication did not affect patients’ overall satisfaction scores, but e-mail significantly improved the level of communication between patients and the surgeon. The study authors add that e-mail helped minimize interruptions to the daily office routine and common barriers such as “phone tag.” Noting the possible legal issues that have stymied widespread use of e-mail for health communications, the researchers suggest that copies of e-mails can offer clear, indisputable evidence for any future litigation (HealthDay, 2/18/08; Groch, MedPage Today, 2/18/08; Stalberg et al., Archives of Surgery, February 2008 [subscription required]).

Some online health care market pioneers thrive in Web 2.0 era

Several health care Web sites continue to thrive in the growing online health information market, USA Today reports. One expert in global research at Hitwise notes that the number of health information Web sites has nearly doubled since 2005. Yet, WebMD and About.com, for instance, are thriving in the Web 2.0 era and "have carved important niches in a specialized market that is going gangbusters," according to USA Today. Though many early health care Web sites failed, WebMD, About.com and BabyCenter benefited from changes in consumers’ Internet use, the emergence of specialized online content and an Internet advertising boom. They also flourished under takeovers by media giants that took a hands-off management approach. According to WebMD, acquired in 1999by Healtheon, now called HLTH, the site had 40.8 million unique monthly users in the third quarter, up 26 percent from one year earlier. Touted as the second-largest medical Web site and purchased by the New York Times Company in 2005, About.com, meanwhile, reported a 28 percent revenue increase from 2006 to 2007 in part because of surging online ads. In addition, the site drew 8.4 million unique users in January, a 36 percent increase from January 2007, according to Nielsen/NetRatings (Swartz, USA Today, 2/18/08).

Apple slashes iPod Shuffle price, makes way for new model

Apple Inc. on Tuesday announced plans to cut the price of its 1-gigabyte (GB) iPod Shuffle from $79 to $49, the San Jose Business Journal reports. In addition, the company plans to add to its media player lineup a 2GB Shuffle, which will sell for $60 beginning later this month. According to the Journal, the 2GB version will hold around 500 songs, while the 1GB Shuffle holds roughly 240 (San Jose Business Journal, 2/19/08).

Adapted software yields images of single molecules

Biomedical scientists at Georgia Tech, Emory and Georgia State universities are tapping imaging software that uses nanoprobes to create more precise images of single molecules, United Press International reports. Specifically, researchers tag molecules with special nanoprobes that only bind to specific types of molecules, illuminating when they are found. To develop the imaging method, researchers adapted techniques designed for stellar photometry, which focuses on measuring the brightness of stars. Before development of the new technique, "we had no way of knowing for sure if we were looking at one molecule or two or three molecules very near one another," according to one professor. She adds that the new system enables scientists to collect quantitative data and actually demonstrate how genes are behaving. More information is available in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (UPI, 2/19/08).

States report progress addressing health IT privacy, study finds

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released a report suggesting that 33 states and Puerto Rico across the last 18 months have made progress addressing privacy and security issues related to the electronic health information exchanges (HIEs), Healthcare IT News reports. Conducted by HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (IT) and the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the study evaluates progress of governments participating in the Health Information Security and Privacy Collaboration (HISPC), part of the federal Privacy and Security Solutions Project. According to the report, most participants say HISPC helped them determine which laws, rules and practices were useful in developing and running HIEs. In addition, 23 states reported increased awareness of privacy and security issues among stakeholders; 14 states indicated an increase in support for HIEs; and 11 states reported legislative activity on privacy, with four states passing laws. The report also indicates that three governors have issued executive orders to formalize support for HISPC, while seven collaborative work groups involving 43 states and two territories are developing tools to share privacy and security solutions (Manos, Healthcare IT News, 2/15/08; Ferris, Government Health IT, 2/15/08).

Nintendo to release new Wii products, services

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday reported that Nintendo Co plans to launch Wii Fit, a new physical fitness product slated for U.S. shipping in May, according to Reuters. Unlike the traditional Wii system, Wii Fit will feature a weight-and-motion sensing device called the Wii Balance Board. In addition, Nintendo in May plans to release a new online service in the U.S. called WiiWare, which will enable game publishers to distribute new titles directly to users on the Web instead of on discs. According to Reuters, Nintendo was unavailable for comment (Adegoke, Reuters/Yahoo! News, 2/19/08).

HHS legislation urges broad health IT adoption to control Medicare spending

The Bush administration recently outlined legislation that would boost health information technology (IT) adoption to rein in Medicare spending, Government Health IT reports. According to officials, the proposal would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop and implement a strategy for ensuring nationwide adoption of electronic health records systems and making personal health records available for Medicare beneficiaries. The measure also would afford HHS the authority to publish provider-specific cost and quality information, while providers would earn payments based in part on the quality and efficiency of care delivery. In addition, the bill would require Medicare enrollees that earn within a specific income bracket to pay higher monthly Medicare Part D premiums and would limit non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits. Commenting on the legislation, Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said that, though he would not include Part D premium increases in his own Medicare reform package for this year, “value-based purchasing and health information technology are both smart targets for reforms in Medicare right now.” Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), meanwhile, is slated to introduce the administration’s bill early next week (Armstrong, CQ HealthBeat, 2/15/08 [subscription required]; Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 2/16/08 [subscription required]; Ferris, Government Health IT, 2/19/08).

Health IT legislation would improve privacy, security

Health information technology (IT) legislation pending in the U.S. House of Representatives would provide grants and establish a process for setting standards to cultivate a nationwide health information exchange network, Government Health IT reports. Sponsored by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, the Technologies for Restoring Users' Security and Trust (TRUST) in Health Information Act, however, differs from the other pending health IT bills because it specifically calls for an opt-in system that would require patient consent before records could be kept in electronic systems. In addition, it would require mandatory notification of any privacy breaches in health IT systems and include requirements for data encryption and other security measures to ensure records are protected from unauthorized access. Commenting on the need for such legislation, Markey notes that “with the right safeguards in place, consumers will be able to trust health IT systems, and doctors and providers will be able to confidently use this infrastructure to improve patient care” (Ferris, Government Health IT, 2/15/08).

Report urges computer-based physician entry program adoption at Massachusetts Community Hospitals

The Boston Globe recently reported that, according to a study released last week, 10 percent of patients treated at six Massachusetts community hospitals suffered adverse drug events (ADEs), prompting experts to urge statewide adoption of computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems. Sponsored by the New England Healthcare Institute and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the study evaluated data collected between January 2005 and August 2006 from 4,200 patient charts and found that 10.4 percent of patients suffered non-fatal preventable ADEs. Such errors lengthened patients' hospital stays by an average of four days. In light of the findings, researchers call on community hospitals to implement CPOE systems, noting the technology's potential to stem medication errors. In addition, the study authors cite data from a PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis suggesting that CPOE could save each hospital an average of $2.7 million annually, as the system can reduce error-related costs, increase use of generic medications and cut duplicate testing. According to the report, such savings would enable hospitals to recoup CPOE installation costs within roughly two years. Noting that 63 of the state's 73 hospitals have yet to adopt CPOE systems, report sponsors call for all Massachusetts hospitals to implement CPOE within three years. They also are urging insurers, government officials and health providers to support the technology's adoption. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, meanwhile, last week announced that it will require all hospitals in the state to fully implement CPOE systems within four years to remain eligible for care quality incentive payments (Wen, Boston Globe; Boston Globe, 2/14/08 [registration required]). 

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