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Bill offers tax breaks for healthcare IT

In a move aimed at boosting healthcare IT implementation, Rep. Phil Gingrey, M.D. (R-Ga.), has introduced legislation that would increase the first year of rapid depreciation for qualifying equipment - including electronic healthcare records - from $100,000 to $250,000.

"This gives physician offices a greater incentive by allowing them to write off more of the total expense of an electronic medical record system in the first year," the summary states.

The bill also would increase the purchase maximum for qualifying equipment from $400,000 to $600,000 in any given year, enabling physicians to deduct other purchases in the same year that they bought an electronic records system.


With a slim margin, the House OKs Labor-HHS Spending Bill

The House recently voted by a slim margin to approve the $602 billion Labor-HHS spending bill. The bill decreases discretionary spending by about 1 percent to a total of $142.5 billion. The bill includes monies for Medicaid and Medicare, with big cuts to medical training, community colleges, rural healthcare and health departments. Discretionary spending has been decreased about $1.5 billion, while NIH expects to receive reduced funding.


House OKs $61.7M for ONCHIT

A House conference committee recently approved $61.7 million in funding for Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT (ONCHIT) for the Labor, Education and HHS appropriations bill. The breakdown of the bill includes $42.8 million of direct funding for ONCHIT, and $18.9 million set aside for Public Health Service Act development of a health IT network. In addition, Congress has targeted $50 million for the Agency for Health Research and Quality for healthcare IT spending.


Notice lists messaging, vocabulary standards

Curious about messaging and vocabulary standards? HHS published a notice listing the 20
messaging and vocabulary standards the federal government has adopted for its healthcare information systems in the Dec. 23 issue of the Federal Register. gpoaccess.gov/fr


IDX is now part of GE

GE Healthcare has completed its acquisition of healthcare IT provider IDX Systems Corp. With the two company's combined capabilities, they hope to become a leading healthcare IT vendor by offering a comprehensive suite of clinical, imaging and business information systems available, according to a release.

Specifically, GE hopes the acquisition will bolster efforts to connect physicians' offices to hospitals through enterprise-wide electronic health records (EHRs), for safe, efficient and cost-effective patient care.

Vishal Wanchoo, president and CEO of GE Healthcare's Information Technologies business, is heading the combined business. GE Healthcare's IT business will have its global headquarters in Barrington, Ill., with major offices in Burlington, Vermont; Boston; Seattle; and London.


Dictaphone sells EMS division

Dictaphone Corp. has sold its Electronic Manufacturing Systems (EMS) Division to Bulova Technologies, LLC.

Dictaphone's sale of its EMS Division unit is part of the company's continuing strategy to create a company focused principally on the healthcare information technology market. The sale follows the company's recent divestiture of its CRS Communications Recording Systems business, which involved the assembly of more hardware-intensive communications recording systems within the company's EMS facility.

For Bulova's part, the acquisition represents the combination of the two organizations that will provide a natural complement for each other, the company said. EMS complements Bulova's core strength in contract manufacturing and provides additional depth of management.


Report: Software may improve virtual colonoscopy

A new study has shown that computer software has the potential to make virtual colonoscopy nearly as accurate as conventional colonoscopy, according to a report by the National Institutes of Health published in the December issue of Gastroenterology. But, the two methods may not yet be identically effective, for though each method worked nearly the same in identifying large colon polyps, standard colonoscopy is a better tool for locating polyps between 6mm and 8mm.


Swissray's DR systems gain FDA clearance

Swissray International's new direct digital radiographic system ddRFormula has been granted FDA 510(K) marketing clearance. The company will now be offering customers a choice between amorphous silicon flat panel, like its competitors, and their patented Quad CCD detector technologies, Swissray said.

The ddRFormula features a C-arm design with a compact design incorporating Swissray's patent pending FP-5000 detector. Also, the FP-5000 detector delivers high image quality with very low radiation dose.


New CAD Reimbursement

CAD Sciences has announced the creation of the first Category III Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) code (0159T) that can be used for Breast MRI CAD reimbursement claims. This new CPT code was established by the American Medical Association (AMA) through a formal process initiated by the filing of a Coding Change Request Form by CAD Sciences, according to a release. Category III codes are designated for emerging services or procedures and are intended for data collection in order to substantiate usage by clinicians or in the FDA approval process.

Riverain Medical has secured reimbursement codes for Medicare claims for physicians using the company's RapidScreen, a chest radiography computer-aided detection (CAD) system for early-stage lung cancer.

"The acquisition of CPT and non-Medicare RBRVS codes - both necessary for claims processing and reimbursement - is a significant step toward the widespread utilization of RapidScreen for the early detection of lung cancer," said Sam Finkelstein, president of Riverain Medical.


NEMA critical of Medicare Reimbursement cuts could affect imaging

House-approved decreases in Medicare reimbursement for medical imaging that are part of the U.S. House budget reconciliation legislation came under fire recently by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) which believes the reduction will put patients in danger. 

The organization has called for the Senate to reject the imaging cuts, which will harm patients by restricting access to imaging services," said Robert Britain, vice president of Medical Products, NEMA, in a letter to the Senate. 

"Unless the Senate acts quickly, these provisions will harm patients by restricting access to imaging services. Ultimately, what the House passed is bad health policy based on a short-sighted desire to find budget savings. The provisions were added in the dead of night and without an open, public process. The only reasonable step now is for the Senate to reject them," he wrote.


Debate: Anti-kickback laws


Regulations could slow technology adoption

Some health IT lobbyists and organizations doubt exceptions to anti-kickback laws
proposed by HHS will really decrease hospitals hesitation to help community physicians adopt health IT.

"The proposed exceptions create more uncertainty about what is permitted without eliminating barriers to investment in healthcare IT," said Scott Wallace, head of the National Alliance for Information Technology.

More criticism came from the law firm McDermott Will and Emory that believes the proposed changes are "too narrow."

Rules will not spur use
Changes to the anti-kickback rules inspired several other comments submitted during a
public comment period.

American Hospital Association Executive Vice President Richard Pollack claimed that the "failure to provide an anti-kickback safe harbor imperils an important opportunity to increase physician use of EHRs."

Scott Wallace, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Health Information Technology, said, "To focus solely on the potential for fraud and abuse is to see only half the picture." He added that the proposed regulations do not advance interoperability.


New WiMAX standard passed for metropolitan Wi-Fi

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has approved the 802.16e specification as the standard to be used to enable metropolitan area wireless networks. The technology will be known as Wi-MAN, for Wireless Metropolitan Area Network, or WiMAX, for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access. It extends the 802.16 standard previously approved for such networks by specifying a system for combined fixed and mobile broadband wireless access in licensed bands under 6 GHz.


Xoft's breast brachytherapy unit gets FDA clearance

Xoft Inc. has announced that it has received clearance from the FDA for its Axxent Electronic Brachytherapy System for the treatment of breast cancer. Electronic Brachytherapy is a proprietary technology platform designed to deliver localized, non-radioactive, isotope-free radiation treatment in a minimally-shielded clinical setting under the supervision of a radiation oncologist, the company said.

The Axxent Electronic Brachytherapy System uses disposable micro-miniature x-ray radiation sources to deliver ionizing radiation treatment directly to tumor beds.


NIH to map cancer genome

NIH officials have launched an effort to map "all the hundreds of molecular glitches that turn normal healthy cells into cancers" to foster understanding of the disease and spur the discovery of treatments. Scientists will report findings on a freely accessible computer database as the atlas is filled, so that researchers, physicians and the public can view the information.

Called the Cancer Genome Atlas, the project will try to identify "the full spectrum of genetic errors that allow cancer cells to divide recklessly, spread and take root throughout the body" and could eventually cost more than $1 billion. During the pilot phase, scientists will study hundreds of tumor samples from two or three types of cancer that have not yet been selected. Types of cancer will be picked that have less variability in order to reduce the risk of failure, because each cancer cell contains a complete genome, as well as cancers with more available tumor samples.


Richardson Electronics buys Image Systems

Richardson Electronics has acquired Image Systems, a specialty supplier of displays, display controllers and calibration software and a former a division of Communications Systems Inc.

"The acquisition of Image Systems is an evolution of our 13 year relationship distributing their products," said Larry Blaney, VP and general manager of Richardsons' Display Systems Group. "This acquisition solidifies Richardson's broad portfolio of display-based solutions for the healthcare and industrial markets."


Primera releases automated CD/DVD burning software

Primera Technology Inc. recently announced its PTDevSuite Software Developers Kit (SDK). The kit provides a comprehensive Application Programming Interface (API) for Windows XP/2000. It is designed to allow software developers to quickly and easily integrate automated CD-R and DVD R burning and printing into their own software programs.


Report: Insurers pushing health IT usage

Many health insurers are pushing the use of clinical IT systems which can boost patient care and bring down costs, according to a report by the group American Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) titled "Innovations in Health Information Technology."

Though the AHIP report does not directly evaluate the benefits of full IT initiatives, it notes that IT programs in general are providing noticeable benefits for patients and employees. "Advances in information technology can help ensure that the best of the U.S. healthcare systems will also be its norm," said Karen Ignagni, president and CEO, AHIP, in comments on the report.

Interestingly, the report highlights one effort by Blue Shield of California through which physicians can bill for talking to patients via secured email communication. Though, as the report notes, most health insurers have not jumped on board for that one.

Through the Blue Shield program, there has been a noted reduction in costs and patient no shows, and it has been viewed favorably by patients and physicians who participated. Blue Shield of California hopes to extend email communication benefits to all of its members.


New Products


Compressus adds RIS to RadSight line

Compressus Inc. has expanded its RadSight product line with a new radiology information system (RIS). The RadSight line has been developed as an affordable electronic image distribution system especially geared for small and medium-sized hospitals. The new, scalable RadSight RIS adds tools to manage patient studies and workflow information.


Meditech announces Oncology Management
Medical Information Technology (Meditech) has announced its Oncology Management, a system designed to help organizations manage the unique care requirements of oncology patients. Specific features include patient scheduling, documentation, on-line management of treatment plans and orders, on-line TNM and staging, and chemotherapy and radiation ordering.


PACSGEAR upgrades PacsSCAN FILM
PACSGEAR has announced advancements to its PacsSCAN FILM product with a new Automated Segmentation Technology (AST) capability. AST provides the ability to scan prior films and automatically return the slices to their original stacked format.


File compression can expand mammography's power

A team of researchers at Purdue University has found that digitized mammograms are actually interpreted more accurately by radiologists once they have been "compressed" using techniques similar to those used to lessen the memory demand of images in digital cameras. Though compression strips away much of the original data, it still leaves intact those features that physicians need most to diagnose cancer effectively. Once a mammogram has been converted into electronic form, it can contain more than 50 megabytes of data, which makes it prohibitively large for transmission by computer modem over a telephone line. Compounding the issue is that four such images are needed for a complete screening, and though it takes only a few minutes to obtain the x-ray pictures, getting a mammogram can be difficult. The FDA has noted that the number of mammography facilities has declined in most states, and the population of potential recipients of mammography services has increased. Telemedicine could potentially mitigate the problem.


GE Healthcare, MobileAccess ink deal for joint wireless system

GE Healthcare has inked a big worldwide deal with MobileAccess Networks to create what will be called GE Enterprise Access designed to help hospitals adopt wireless services on a common infrastructure. GE Enterprise Access will leverage the MobileAccess Universal Wireless Network to provide wireless coverage throughout healthcare facilities and simultaneously deliver a broad range of wireless technologies, including cellular, Wi-Fi, paging, and public safety radio on one infrastructure. The two companies will collaborate in an ongoing fashion to deliver next-generation wireless offerings for hospitals including support for the Wireless Medical Telemetry Service (WMTS).


Resonant Medical defends against Varian patent infringement claim

Resonant Medical Systems is under investigation regarding allegations by Varian and SAS PRAXIM of France of possible patent violations relating to the importation of the company's 3D ultrasound image guidance technology, the Restitu Platform.

"Resonant's products are based on new and innovative technologies, fundamentally different from existing image guidance products for radiation therapy," said Fred Francis, CEO, Resonant, in a statement regarding the charges "We have painstakingly researched our IP positions, and have taken great care to avoid any infringement," he added.


Clario Medical Imaging receives FDA clearance for z3D software

Clario Medical Imaging has announced that its z3D Contrast Acuity software has received 510(k) clearance from the FDA.

z3D Contrast Acuity uses advanced computer graphics to enhance visualization of medical images to aid diagnosis with more efficiency. z3D is used to assist in the efficient analysis of multi-modality, digital images, including MR, CT, x-ray, PET and nuclear medicine images, the company said.
The addition of z3D to CAD provides the following benefits, according to Clario:
  • Enhances visualization of time-intensity changes in T1-weighted images and subtractions
  • Animates dynamic contrast enhancement; contrast arrival time and CAD parametric map
  • Displays morphological detail and internal architecture
z3D will be initially distributed to customers through a license agreement with Confirma Inc. and Invivo Corp.


ACR launches resident and fellows section web site

The American College of Radiology (ACR) has launched of a new Resident and Fellow Section (RFS) web site that is focused entirely on the specific interests and needs of radiology residents and fellows.
Components of the RFS site include:
  • An Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) housing database
  • An unmoderated discussion forum
  • Links to primers on government relations, economics, and residency issues; ACR Learning Files; Professional Self-Evaluation Syllabi, and others.

Imaging3 becomes public company

Developer of real-time 3D diagnostic imaging tools Imaging3 Inc. has gone public based on the acceptance of its SB-2 registration statement by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

"We are very pleased that our registration statement has been declared effective and that we have become a public company," said Dean Janes, CEO, Imaging3. "We can now turn our energies and focus to developing markets and customers for our breakthrough, real-time three dimensional medical imaging systems. We look forward to building a successful company for our shareholders," added Janes.