China builds South Pole space observatory

Leading an international research team, the Polar Research Institute of China has installed an automated space observatory at Dome Argus—the highest point on the South Pole, United Press International reports. The group last month finished installing the fully robotic Plateau Observatory on the Antarctic icecap peak, which is 13,428 feet above sea level. According to a release, the observatory must operate completely unattended until Chinese scientists return to Dome Argus next January. Commenting on the project, the head of the Chinese Center for Antarctic Astronomy notes that data from the observatory will likely provide insights into the universe once only possible from space, adding that "Dome Argus is believed to be the best site for ground-based astronomy" because it is very quiet with very low wind speed and is the coldest and driest place on Earth—conditions critical for a successful observatory (UPI, 3/20/08).

A kid-safe service trolls the Web for good content

A new service aims to make the Internet safer for children to, BetaNews reports. Joining the crowded market devoted to children’s fun and education, KidZui has launched a specialized browser designed for children ages 3 to 12. The service offers users access to more than 500,000 Web sites that have been deemed to be "child appropriate." The program is based on a whitelist -- a catalog of Web sites individually checked by Web users. BetaNews notes that “parents must first create an account through the service, then children may create an individual account and avatar for them to use. If a user tries to view content outside of the KidZui whitelist, the management team is notified so the Web site can be reviewed. Some 200 parents and teachers are responsible for deciding what sites outside of KidZui are appropriate or inappropriate” (Hatamoto, BetaNews, 3/20/08).

White House to hire tech entrepreneur for cyber post

According to the Washington Post’s tech blog, the Bush administration “is planning to tap a Silicon Valley entrepreneur to head a new inter-agency group charged with coordinating the federal government's efforts to protect its computer networks from organized cyber attacks.” Various sources suggest that the White House on Thursday may officially announce the selection of Rod A. Beckstrom as a top-level adviser based in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Beckstrom is an author and entrepreneur well-known for launching—a company that offers businesses collaboration software. For more information, see the Washington Post (Krebs, Washington Post, 3/19/08).


Minnesota awards first EHR loans to health care providers

The Minnesota Department of Health on Tuesday announced the award of the first two loans under the state's new $6.3 million Electronic Health Record Revolving Account and Loan Program, Healthcare IT News reports. The program, approved by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) in 2007, offers six-year, no-interest loans of up to $1.5 million on a first-come, first-serve basis in an effort to help rural hospitals, small-town physician clinics, nursing homes and other community providers transition to EHRs. Swift County-Benson Hospital in Benson, Minn., and Mille Lacs Health System in Onamia, Minn., will borrow a total of $2,345,045 to adopt EHR systems. According to Department of Health officials, additional loan requests are being reviewed. Minnesota law requires all health care providers in the state to use EHRs by Jan. 1, 2015 (Pizzi, Healthcare IT News, 3/19/08; Government Technology, 3/18/08).

Microsoft releases nearly final Hyper-V

Microsoft's on Wednesday released a near-final test version of the Hyper-V server virtualization that is "feature complete," InformationWeek reports. Early copies of Windows Server 2008 currently include a beta version of Hyper-V, but Microsoft has announced that the final version will be integrated in its server operating systems when Hyper-V is released in August. According to InformationWeek, the latest test version of Hyper-V “adds a number of features and tweaks, including improved performance, easier networked installation, bug fixes, and German- and Japanese-language support.” In addition, the version is capable of running Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, Windows Server 2003 SP2, Windows Vista SP1, and Windows XP SP3 as guest operating systems. Ultimately, Microsoft hopes Hyper-V and its other virtualization products will help it better compete with VMware, Citrix's XenServer, Virtual Iron and others in the market (Hoover, InformationWeek, 3/19/08).


Low-cost Intel laptops slated for U.S. release

Intel Corp. on Wednesday announced plans to expand distribution of its low-cost educational laptops to the United States and Europe, the San Jose Business Journal reports. Though the California-based company originally designed the laptops for developing markets, Intel said it has conducted pilot tests of the Classmate PCs in the U.S. and Australia. According to the Journal, the lap top will go on sale for about $250 to $350, and are already available in India, Mexico and Indonesia (San Jose Business Journal, 3/19/08).

Kaiser taps EHRs to study cardiac care in Hawaiian patients

Kaiser Permanente Hawaii is using its electronic health record (EHR) system, KP HealthConnect, to study heart disease prevention and management among roughly 150,000 adult patients, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports. Supported by a $600,000 federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality grant, researchers across two years will use EHR data to identify care pattern variations and assess how patient and physician practices relate to the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as treatment outcomes. The senior investigator at Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research in Honolulu who is leading the two-year study notes that Kaiser's EHR system enables researchers to study an entire population and analyze a patient’s “total medical experience” to identify the most effective care patterns. Using the system, he says that researchers will be able to determine, for instance, how aggressively physicians are managing patients’ blood pressure and how that treatment affects patients’ risk for heart disease and stroke. Ultimately, he notes that the study aims to identify how EHRs can improve care. Meanwhile, officials note that the Center for Health Research is also using a grant to launch a similar study on cancer treatment and is planning a third study on diabetes (Altonn, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 3/19/08).

Pennsylvania coalition launches hospital comparison Web site

A coalition of Pennsylvania’s four Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurers, hospitals, physicians and government agencies on Wednesday launched a consumer Web site featuring hospital quality information related to nosocomial infections and care for heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia patients, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. The Pennsylvania Heath Care Quality Alliance (PHCQA) Web site draws information from Medicare, the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council and the Joint Commission. Site users can compare performance and outcomes for all 162 primary acute care hospitals in the state, as well as against state and national averages. The executive director of PHCQA also notes that data on the site generally will date back two years from the most recent available, though the site will be updated quarterly with recent statistics. According to PHCQA officials, the site will enable state residents to make more informed health care decisions, and such transparency will increase competition among providers, resulting in better quality and lower costs. Noting that the site is still a work in progress, officials say they plan to add additional clinical areas and quality measures at a later date (Fahy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/19; Loviglio, AP/Contra Costa Times, 3/19/08).

Apple unveils another security update

Apple Inc. on Tuesday released its second security update of the year, known as APPLE-SA-2008-03-18 Security Update 2008-002, CNet News reports. The update contains more than 40 specific patches for versions of Mac OS X, the most significant of which include Apache, ClamAV, Emacs, OpenSSH, PHP, and X11. According to CNet, these patches protect users from the most serious vulnerabilities, such as the ability for outsiders to gain remote access to a user's computer, as well as other issues that, for instance, may cause an application or service to crash. The update "is recommended for all users and improves the security of Mac OS X," according to the Apple Downloads page (Vamosi, CNet News, 3/18/08).

New Mexico taps federal grant to create regional telehealth network

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center’s Center for Telehealth is using a $15.5 million grant from the Federal Communications Commission to design, build, operate and assess a major broadband network designed to link rural telehealth networks throughout the region, the Associated Press reports. The Southwest Telehealth Access Grid would help create connect more than 500 Indian Health Service (IHS) and other health care facilities in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, Nevada, Texas and Utah. Described as a “network of networks,” the grid will enable IHS to offer roughly 60 telemedicine services to patients including teleradiology, teleophthalmology and telepsychology. According to the center’s medical director, the grid will likely improve patient care and provider training, as well as disaster response capabilities. Noting that telehealth does not replace the value of in-person care, he also suggests that the network will significantly enhance physician-patient relationships, adding that demand for such services will likely increase as more experience the value of telehealth (Holmes, AP/Yahoo! News, 3/19/08).

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