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Wanted: National Health IT Coordinator

The search for a new National Coordinator for Health Information has not unearthed a viable replacement as yet. The former coordinator, David Brailer, resigned last April.

President Bush and HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt are leading the search, and timing seems to be an issue. Potential candidates for the position may not want to relocate to Washington for a presidential appointment that may end at the close of the current term.

Additionally, some think that the search may be hampered by qualified candidates being immersed in their own health IT projects.

However, there are pressing issues that require a national health IT coordinator, including communicating a vision that fosters public trust in health IT, coordinating efforts among federal agencies to adopt health IT and managing contracts awarded by HHS for health IT prototypes. Based on those issues, most insiders feel optimistic that the search will continue in earnest and ultimately produce a qualified replacement.

CCHIT Certifies More EHR Software

Two more electronic health record (EHR) software products have been certified by the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT).

iMedica Patient Relationship Manager 2005 Version 5.1 from iMedica and Praxis Electronic Medical Records Version 3.4 from INFOR-MED have met the commission's criteria for functionality, interoperability and information security.

CCHIT has now completed its first round of certifications of EHR products for use in providers' offices, referred to as 'ambulatory' EHR products. A new round of certifications for ambulatory products is set to begin and CCHIT will accept vendor applications August 1 through August 14.

Industry associations formed CCHIT, which is supported by a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, to make buying EHR software easier and less risky.

Rx for Hurricane Season: Updated Electronic Health Records

As part of the standard preparations for hurricane season, private information technology companies are recommending a dose of their electronic health records systems.

A lesson was learned from Hurricane Katrina where the destruction of medical records for an estimated 1 million Gulf Coast residents is still causing problems for consumers.

Seeking to snare a share of the Florida consumer market, one California company,, is offering its electronic medical records service to Florida residents free during hurricane season. A subscription fee will apply after November 30 when hurricane season ends.

Privacy issues are, as always, a concern as are issues relative to the actual accessing of the information during a true emergency.

Medical Schools Prescribe Technology for Students

More and more medical schools are using technology, and the Internet, as teaching tools-and medical students are welcoming an infusion of technology into their educational experience. Most medical students today carry laptops and PDAs in addition to notebooks and stethoscopes.

Drexel University College of Medicine, in Philadelphia, has recently put all lectures for first- and second-year students online, and nearly 75 lectures for third- and fourth-year students. Drexel has also developed a series of Web-based innovations, inclucing, a joint production with the American Academy on Physician and Patient, a society that works to help doctors and patients communicate better.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has digitized all of its lectures and put the information online. The lectures are indexed to the minute so students can quickly find any particular part of a lecture they want to review.

Despite fears of students opting not to attend the actual lectures, instructors say the overwhelming majority of students continue to attend lectures even though the content is also available online.

IT Companies Vie for South African EHR Contract

Leading health-care IT companies are lining up to bid for a South African government contract to provide an electronic health record (EHR) system for patients using public hospitals and clinics.

As in the U.S. most patient records in South Africa are paper-based, and hospitals that already use electronic records employ systems that are not integrated across facilities.

Earlier this month, the South African government issued a call for proposals for an EHR. In attendance at that briefing meeting were South African IT firms, including Dimension Data and Business Connexion, as well as foreign companies including Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SAP, and Sun Microsoft.

Wisconsin RHIO Receives $110,000 State Contract

The Wisconsin Health Information Exchange has been awarded a contract worth $110,000 from the State of Wisconsin for calendar year 2006.  WHIE intends to use the funds to develop its governance structure and administrative staff.

WHIE's stated mission is to improve the quality and accessibility of healthcare and the organization's initial efforts will be aimed at providing emergency clinicians with software tools that lead to improved quality and efficiency of emergency care provided to Medicaid patients. The contract also will enable WHIE to develop a plan for a pilot regional patient encounter index linked to a state surveillance system and to begin utilizing electronic health records.

Also on the WHIE planning agenda, pending further funding, is the creation of a regional medication reconciliation system, and the implementation of an electronic results routing and messaging system to improve efficiencies in outpatient clinics.

Stolen VA Laptop Found

The Department of Veterans Affairs has recovered the stolen laptop and hard drive containing personal information on up to 26.5 million veterans and military personnel.
According to the FBI, there is no evidence that anyone has accessed the data, which includes Social Security numbers. Reportedly, to date there have been no reports of identity theft stemming from the burglary at a VA employee's Maryland home last May.

The FBI said that a preliminary review of the equipment by FBI computer forensic teams indicated that the database is intact and has not been accessed since it was stolen.

Specific details on how the laptop was recovered were not disclosed, but the VA said no suspects were in custody. Contrary to earlier reports, it seems that the VA analyst blamed for losing the laptop had received permission to work from home with the sensitive data.

Rochester Rhio

The nine-county Rochester area of New York recently cleared a major hurdle in starting a regional electronic data-sharing network. A group that includes hospitals, health insurers and businesses won a $4.4 million state grant to begin the Rochester Regional Health Information Organization (RHIO). Leaders from the business and health care sectors of the area are onboard and will contribute $1.9 million toward the effort.

Under the system, health care providers would be able to access health records for just about any patient. That ease of access could save lives particularly if a patient ends up in an emergency room, or is unconscious and cannot give information about their health history. Health care providers not familiar with a patient's history can have the information at hand and avoid ordering diagnostic tests, which may have already been done for that patient.

Not everyone is up for Rochester's RHIO, though. Most notably, ViaHealth, the area's second-largest health system, will not help fund the project.


Armed Forces Institute of Pathology Launches New Learning Tool

The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) is launching a new learning tool that will allow any pathologist or clinician computer access to a wide range of content. The system provides information on cases from the AFIP Central Repository complete with radiographic imagery, articles published by the staff, and access to AFIP Tumor Pathology published by the American Registry of Pathology.

The "AskAFIP" version 2.0 was developed by Dr. Jeffrey R. Galvin in the Department of Radiologic Pathology. Dr. Galvin is the co-founder of the Virtual Hospital at the University of Iowa.

Version 3.0 is expected to launch in 2007 and will include a handheld version and streaming video. The system is free for military physicians and available to civilian users for a nominal fee.

New Technology: PROPELLER MRI

Obtaining clear diagnostic images during MRI scanning is essential for diagnosing certain medical conditions, and critical for surgeons who use imaging during surgical procedures. However, motion can cause blurring and obtaining clear images is difficult if the patient is moving--think patients with Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, or fidgety children.

Now there is a new technology, called the PROPELLER MRI, which allows doctors to track the movement of the patient during the scan and reduce it in the image. The technology not only allows for clearer images, it allows for a quicker scan and quicker results. PROPELLER stands for "Periodically Rotated Overlapping Parallel Lines with Enhanced Reconstruction."

Despite the newness and sophistication of the technology, PROPELLER scans cost the same as traditional MRIs and can actually save money because patients don't need as many re-takes.

Epic Systems Wins $40 Million Contract at WVU Hospitals

Epic Systems Corporation of Madison Wisconsin has won a $40 million contract to consolidate data from multiple software programs across the West Virginia University (WVU) Hospitals and University Health Associates systems.

The new IT system will streamline record keeping and record sharing at three sites: Physicians Office Center, WVU Cheat Lake Physicians office and the WVU Harpers Ferry Family Medicine Center. Several systems at Ruby Memorial Hospital, WVU Children's Hospital and Chestnut Ridge Hospital will also be consolidated.

Going forward, once patients provide a medical history, insurance and other information at one WVU office, it will be available to all other offices. Lab results, X-rays and other records will be instantly available.

WVU providers logged more than 500,000 patient visits last year, each of which can generate dozens of documents in a single day.

IBM Wins $10 Million Deal to Digitize Canadian Health Records

In an effort to reduce medical errors and to promote workplace efficiency, IBM and the Canadian province of Alberta have signed a $10-million deal to digitize patient health records.

Over a two-year timeframe, IBM will help roll out the system and recruit, and train users including as physicians, pharmacists and other health-care providers to use the system in offices and pharmacies.

IBM already has a foothold in Alberta's health IT landscape. The province's  existing Pharmaceutical Information Network was developed by IBM. That system provides authorized health-care workers with access to a patient's prescription history. Alberta hopes to have every resident of the province on the EHR system by 2008.

New Jersey to Create Online Rx Registry

As long as Governor Corzine signs the bill, the state of New Jersey will soon have a state Web site listing pharmacy prices for 150 frequently prescribed drugs. The state Assembly passed the bill earlier this month, and the Senate sent it on to Corzine yesterday.

According to the bill's requirements, pharmacies would have to report retail prices weekly to the state. Consumers will be able to search and compare drug prices by zip code. The information will be available in print form for people who don't have Internet access.

Kidney Transplant Program Records Stolen

The records of nearly 10,000 patients at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have been stolen. The records were on a computer and the information taken included Social Security numbers and medical records of patients associated with UAB's kidney transplant program. Those affected by the theft include donors, recipients and potential recipients in the program.

UAB has initiated a criminal investigation through its own police department and is offering to pay for a year's subscription to a credit monitoring service for those affected. UAB claims it has no knowledge to date that anyone has made use of the stolen information, and says it has put additional physical security measures into place.
The Veteran's Affairs Administration had a similar situation with data theft recently, While VA officials have said that no medical records or financial information were among the stolen data, they later reported that some information on the veterans' disabilities may have been taken.

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