California researchers discover new technique for creating solar cells

United Press International on Monday reported that researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) have created a new technique for fabricating organic polymer solar cells, taking a step closer to producing low-cost, plastic solar cells. Scientists at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute used an electronic, glue-based lamination process and an interface modification to create a one-step method for semi-transparent polymer solar cell fabrication. According to the researchers, the method renders the expensive and time-consuming high-vacuum processes now used in fabrication obsolete, while the resulting device has the advantage of being low-cost and achieving high transparency for various applications. The technique is described in greater detail in the January’s Advanced Materials (UPI, 2/11/08).

MIT earns grant to study U.S. energy system

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently received a two-year, $2-million grant to assess the U.S. energy technology innovation system, United Press International reports. Awarded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the grant will help researchers at the MIT Industrial Performance Center assess the strengths and weaknesses of the system. Specifically, researchers will address “the entire complex of incentives, regulations, markets, and public and private institutions within which the development, demonstration, adoption and diffusion of new energy technologies takes place.” Researchers expect the findings to lead to recommendations for improvements in federal and state research, development and demonstration policies (UPI, 2/1/08).

CIOs eye investments in IT to reduce medication errors

According to a roundtable discussion of CIOs convened by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, investment in IT designed to help reduce medication errors is a top priority for CIOs nationwide, Health Data Management reports. The CIO of Saint Barnabas Health Care System in Toms River, N.J., noted they are “looking for systems that reduce errors, including medication administration, medication reconciliation, pharmacy systems and clinical systems," adding that hospitals are increasing their spending on mobile technology to boost providers' access to information. Meanwhile, the CIO of Sharp HealthCare, a seven-hospital system based in San Diego, called for improved integration between revenue cycle management systems and clinical information systems, noting that future reimbursement will be linked with performance that is measured using clinical indicators. He added that, as pay-for-performance programs become more common, hospitals will have to collect more data (Health Data Management, 2/8/08). 

Yahoo rejects Microsoft’s offer, explores deals with others

The London Times reported that Yahoo Inc. on Monday rejected Microsoft Corp.'s unsolicited $44.6 billion bid for not being large enough and announced it will restart merger discussions with Time Warner Inc.'s AOL unit, according to the San Jose Business Journal. Without citing its sources, the Times reported that Yahoo also is exploring deals with Google Inc. and Walt Disney Co.  Meanwhile, the Business Journal notes that reports released this weekend suggest Yahoo will not consider a buyout offer below $40 a share, which would boost the price by about $12 billion. According to a statement from the company, Yahoo’s board is "continually evaluating all of its strategic options in the context of the rapidly evolving industry environment and we remain committed to pursuing initiatives that maximize value for all stockholders" (San Jose Business Journal, 2/11/08).

AT&T to offer Wi-Fi in Starbucks’ U.S. locations

AT&T and Starbucks are partnering to offer free wireless Internet service to all qualified AT&T broadband and U-verse Internet customers at more than 7,000 U.S. Starbucks locations, the San Antonio Business Journal reports. AT&T officials say they have 12 million of these customers and an additional 5 million remote access service business customers that will be able to use the service, while the roughly 100,000 Starbucks employees also will get free AT&T Wi-Fi accounts to use in the stores. Beginning spring 2008, Starbucks also will offer its card holders two free hours of free Wi-Fi service daily at participating locations. For customers that lack an AT&T subscription or a Starbucks card, Starbucks will sell two-hour blocks of wireless Internet for $3.99 or a subscription membership for $19.99 per month (San Antonio Business Journal, 2/11/08).

Federal tech committee outlines biometric data sharing standards

The Subcommittee on Biometrics and Identity Management of the White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) recently released a registry of biometric standards draft that could bolster interagency data sharing, Government Computer News reports. The Registry of USG Recommended Biometric Standards aims to supplement an earlier release, the NSTC Policy for Enabling the Development, Adoption and Use of Biometric Standards, which is designed to establish common interagency standards to ensure interoperable biometric systems. The registry is a list of those standards and represents a consensus among 15 agencies participating in the process. Specifically, the registry includes recommended standards for data collection, storage and exchange; transmission profiles; requirements for identifying government employees and contractors; plug-and-play equipment standards; conformance and performance testing methodology standards; and references. Released through the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the registry will be open for public comment through March 10 (Jackson, GCN, 2/11/08).

HHS launches two projects to boost care transparency, physician ratings

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Michael Leavitt last week announced plans to tap technology to improve Medicare’s physician rating system health and care transparency, the Memphis Business Journal reports. Likening his goal to creating a “Travelocity for health care,” Leavitt aims to establish a Web site that would offer consumers quality grades for physicians, as well as care cost information. Currently, physicians are rated using insurance claims information, but experts suggest that using electronic medical records “would be a more fair way to get at that data” and could produce more accurate physician grades. As a first step to reaching this goal, Leavitt named the Health Memphis Common Table as the nation’s first Chartered Value Exchange, meaning the center will serve as the local authority on HHS’ medical practice standards set. In addition, the Table will function as a sounding board for physicians that want to offer input on those standards. Meanwhile, Leavitt also announced plans to establish a national learning network of physician offices to share data with HHS, which would use the information to improve national quality reporting and grading systems. According to Leavitt, HHS will select 12 care organizations across the country to convene the program. Those 12 initial sites will then identify 100 local physician offices to participate in exchange for higher Medicare payments (Sells, Memphis Business Journal, 2/8/08).

Lawmakers address health IT funding proposals

Though federal funding for health information technology (IT) is expected to decline in fiscal year 2009, lawmakers continue to seek strategies for supporting technological innovations in health care, CQ HealthBeat reports. This year, President Bush has proposed $168 million for health IT and electronic health records programs within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), with $66 million of the budget allocated for Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT program development and implementation and $45 million dedicated to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s health IT grant program. In addition, Bush’s budget included $458 million to support health IT within the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs. On the Congressional side, lawmakers are urging support for a House bill that would earmark $8 million for health IT research grants, as well as three Senate bills that would support health IT efforts including implementation and privacy. A separate Senate measure, meanwhile, would authorize $278 million in matching grants across fiscal years 2008 and 2009 for regional and local health IT networks. Noting the fiscal 2009 federal budget recommends less funding for health IT than previous budgets, the vice president of public policy for the not-for-profit eHealth Initiative says the decrease likely reflects the current fiscal environment and Congress’s previous budget rejections, not a lack of interest in health IT (Nylen, CQ HealthBeat, 2/7/08 [subscription required]).

Microsoft Plans 12 Security Fixes Next Week

Microsoft on Thursday announced plans to release 12 security bulletins on Feb. 12, InformationWeek reports. The company's February Patch Day will include information about seven critical and five important vulnerabilities affecting such software as Active Directory, ADAM, IIS, Internet Explorer, Jscript, Office, VBScript, Visual Basic, Windows, Works and Works Suite. In addition, Microsoft plans to address a weakness in Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac, though the company has yet to release the exact nature of the vulnerability. InformationWeek, however, speculates that it will likely relate to the Excel issue that surfaced in mid-January. Microsoft plans to hold a Webcast on Feb. 13 to address customer questions (Claburn, InformationWeek, 2/7/08).

Facebook now available in Spanish

Facebook Inc. this week launched a Spanish-language version of its social networking site in an effort to expand its audience and compete with rival, which is already available in 13 languages, the Associated Press reports. Starting next week, users accessing Facebook from a Spanish-speaking country will automatically be routed to the Spanish-language Web site. Facebook completed the translation with help from roughly 1,500 Facebook users, who translated the site's vernacular and applications into Spanish using a tool provided by the company. With plans to add French and German versions by April 2008, company officials note that adding more languages is a critical move because nearly 60 percent of its 64 million active users are based outside the United States (AP/Yahoo! News, 2/7/08).

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