Online social network application aims to encourage more blood donations

The social-networking Web site Facebook on Monday added access to an application created by Takes All Types—a New York-based not-for-profit group that promotes widespread blood donations, the New York Times reports. Facebook users who install the application will identify their blood type. The program then will send the user alerts via Facebook, as well as by telephone, e-mail, text message or fax, in the event that their blood type is needed in their area. In addition, the application will send reminders to donate blood regularly. According to the Times, the application is the "latest indication that Facebook" has "become a place for people to link up for practically any reason, with civic-minded pursuits now playing a larger role" (Goodman, New York Times, 3/10/08).

U.S. military med school taps simulation technology for disaster training

The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Maryland is using a virtual reality and simulation center to help prepare physicians, nurses and public health professionals for natural disasters, infectious disease outbreaks and other high-stress events, the Washington Post reports. Operated by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences serves as the country’s only military medical school, but also trains civilian physicians in public health. The university’s National Capital Area Medical Simulation Center, meanwhile, opened in 2000 and conducts roughly 8,000 virtual operations each academic year. According to the acting dean and associate professor of the Graduate School of Nursing, the simulation center enables students to experience “advanced situations which may be dangerous for the first time." He adds that the technology “allows for hands-on training in a high-fidelity environment for crisis management as well as repetitive experience for advanced procedures" (Spinner, Washington Post, 3/10/08 [registration required]). 

Google acquires DoubleClick

Google Inc. on Tuesday purchased online ad tracker DoubleClick Inc. after European Union (EU) regulators cleared its $3.1 billion bid for the company, the Associated Press reports. According to Google’s CEO, merging with DoubleClick will enable Google to more quickly develop and release advances in technology and infrastructure that would ultimately improve digital media and target advertising. According to the EU's antitrust authority said its decision was based exclusively on the economic issues and did not address the companies' obligations under EU rules for privacy and personal data processing. EU data privacy regulators, however, expect to complete a separate probe into search engines' privacy policies by April, according to the AP. Meanwhile, privacy advocates at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Digital Democracy suggest that the EU regulators' failure to impose safeguards has "helped strengthen a growing digital colossus that will now be in a dominant position to shape much of the global future of the Internet." Yet, the EU said it found no proof that Google and DoubleClick would be able to marginalize competitors, noting that Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL are "credible" alternatives for Web site ad placement. In addition, the AP reports that Google and DoubleClick are not currently rivals, and Google's purchase of even a potential competitor would not have an adverse impact on competition in the online ad market (White and Liedtke, AP/Yahoo! News, 3/11/08).

Massachusetts requires hospitals to report nosocomial infections

The Massachusetts Public Health Council will soon require hospitals within the state to report hospital-acquired infection (HAI) rates, an effort that officials expect to improve hospital transparency and accountability, Government Health IT reports. Hospitals starting July 1 will have to report HAI rates to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Healthcare Safety Network. Under the state plan, hospitals also must allow the state to access the data. After a designated state center evaluates the data to ensure its reliability, the state Department of Public Health will post the information publicly on a state Web site and use it to create online report cards and other materials to communicate with the public. In addition, state inspectors will visit hospitals to ensure they are complying with mandated infection-prevention procedures. If hospitals do not comply with the reporting rule, or if they continue to have high HAI rates, they could potentially lose their state license. State public health officials note the plan will enable consumers to make more informed health care decisions and expect the increased transparency and accountability to lead to a decline in HAI rates. Meanwhile, Government Health IT reports that the move makes Massachusetts the 14th state to enact such a mandate, though 16 other states are reviewing similar legislation (Hayes, Government Health IT, 3/10/08).

United States, Mexico collaborate on disease surveillance

U.S. and Mexican officials on Tuesday reaffirmed their commitment to collaborate on border health efforts including disease surveillance, the McAllen Monitor reports. Under a signed agreement, the United States-Mexico Border Health Commission will continue developing a planned early warning infectious disease surveillance system. Officials are constructing containment laboratories in Mexican border states and establishing data-sharing systems to enhance information exchange, disease containment, outbreak identification and individual case tracking. One HHS officials says the countries expect their data sharing system to go live by next year (McEver, McAllen Monitor, 3/4/08).

Canadian telemedicine program links cancer patients with physicians

Rural patients in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, are participating in a telemedicine program that remotely delivers clinical cancer services via videoconferencing technology, the St. John's Telegram reports. A recent evaluation of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teleoncology Program found that 90 percent of its 120 participating cancer patients reported being satisfied with the initiative, while physicians reported that the program has reduced their travel time and enabled them to see more patients more often. In addition, the program has demonstrated that the technology is sustainable and transferable to other areas of health care. Based on its success, the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information is using the project's clinical component to develop a provincial telehealth program that will provide remote services for diabetes, kidney disease, mental health, neurology and other care areas (Bartlett, St. John's Telegram, 3/6/08).

Apple unveils beta iPhone 2.0 software

Apple Inc. on Thursday previewed its iPhone 2.0 software for select developers and enterprise customers, the San Jose Business Journal reports. Slated for public release in June, the software includes the iPhone Software Development Kit and new enterprise features such as support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync to provide over-the-air push e-mail, contacts and calendars, as well as remote wipe. In addition, it features San Jose-based Cisco Systems Inc.'s IPsec VPN for encrypted access to private corporate networks. Officials also said the company has licensed Microsoft’s Exchange ActiveSync and is building it into the iPhone for connection out-of-the-box to Microsoft Exchange Servers 2003 and 2007, according to the Journal. According to Apple, the new features will compete with Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry for business customers (San Jose Business Journal, 3/6/08).

Missouri legislature passes bills to create prescription drug database

The Missouri House and Senate have approved separate bills to establish a prescription drug database that would track prescriptions for controlled substances, the AP/Springfield News-Leader reports. Designed to reduce “doctor shopping,” both bills ease the process of tracking drugs and require pharmacists to keep an electronic purchase log for certain cold medicines that can be used to make methamphetamines. Under the bills, pharmacists also would have to record and submit the patient's name, address and birth date, as well as the type of drug, dosage and whether it is a refill or new prescription. To alleviate privacy concerns, the House bill includes a provision that would only allow data from the registry to be accessed during on-site inspections or after complaints. Meanwhile, the penalty for people who release data without authorization under the Senate bill would be a misdemeanor, while under the House bill the violation would be classified as a felony (Blank, AP/Springfield News-Leader, 3/6/08).

U.S. report finds spike in information, communication technology spending

According to a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. businesses spent $250.7 billion on information and communication technology equipment and computer software in 2006, up 6.3 percent since 2005, the Birmingham Business Journal reports. In the three categories of noncapitalized spending on e-business infrastructure, the Census Bureau's Information and Communication Technology Survey found that purchases of equipment totaled $18.6 billion; operating leases and rental payments totaled $18.2 billion; and computer software expenditures totaled $54 billion. The largest share of noncapitalized computer software expenditures totaling $30.7 billion, meanwhile, went for purchases and payroll for developing software, and the remaining $23.3 billion covered software licensing and service/maintenance agreements. Researchers based their findings on annual data related to noncapitalized and capitalized business spending for information and communication technology equipment and computer software. According to the Journal, “noncapitalized expenditures are expenses for assets with extended life spans and are written off in the same year in which they are made,” while “capitalized expenditures are costs for assets that have a useful life of more than one year and are usually depreciated.” Commenting on the findings, report authors note that the spending surge has been driven by frequent equipment upgrades based on rapid technological advances, the full cost of which many companies write off during the year, instead of allowing it to depreciate across two or more years (DeButts, Birmingham Business Journal, 3/6/08). 

Hospitals preparing for addition of patient survey data to CMS Web site

Hospitals nationwide are currently reviewing the preliminary results of patient satisfaction surveys slated for publication later this month on the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Hospital Compare Web site, the San Antonio Express-News reports. Nearly all hospitals have conducted the voluntary Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems following CMS’s decision to tie 2 percent of facilities’ Medicare reimbursement to participation in the effort. The standardized survey asks patients 27 questions about their hospital experience including the physician and nurse communication skills, the quality of discharge instructions received, pain control, and bathroom assistance received. In addition, the survey asks patients to rate the facility overall on a scale of zero to 10. According to the Express-News, CMS plans to post the new information on March 28 (Finley, San Antonio Express-News, 3/5/08).

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