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HHS hopes loosening of Stark law will spur health IT adoption

After much anticipation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued new rules to bolster adoption of e-prescription tools and EMR (electronic medical records) by physicians and healthcare organizations. The new rules were introduced by HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt.  

The new regulatory proposal would create exceptions to the 'physician self-referral' law (also known as the Stark law). To avoid kickbacks, the rule prevents physicians participating in Medicare to refer patients for certain health services to hospitals which the physician is financially connected. The new rules, however, would exclude technology buys from the rule to make IT adoption easier.  Moreover, the exemptions would allow doctors to gain access to hospital computer systems - such as hardware, software and training - through rental or some other method, which would help alleviate cost barriers associated with EMR adoption.

Separately, the Office of Inspector General has announced proposed safe harbors for the donation of technology for e-prescribing and electronic health records; technology that meets the requirements would be exempt from enforcement action.


HHS health IT contract winners unveiled

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded three contracts totaling $17.5 million to public-private groups to form strategic partnerships to develop widespread adoption of health IT initiatives such as interoperable electronic health records (EHR). Here is a breakdown of the awarded companies:
  • IT standards and harmonization ($3.3 million): The American National Standards Institute (ansi.org)
  • <>Compliance certification ($2.7 million): Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (cchit.org)
  • Privacy and security issues ($11.5 million): Health Information Security and Privacy Collaboration, a new partnership consisting of a multi-disciplinary team of experts and the National Governor's Association (NGA) developed by the Research Triangle Institute (rti.org)
A fourth RFP, for nationwide health information network (NHIN) architectures, will soon be announced.


GE Healthcare to buy IDX

In a move to boost its information technology portfolio, GE Healthcare has unveiled its intention to purchase IT-giant IDX Systems Corp. The merger agreement totals approximately $1.2 billion, with IDX shareholders expected to receive $44 per share payable in cash (an 20 percent-plus premium on the stock price).

The combination of companies is expected to create a comprehensive suite of clinical, imaging and administrative information systems on the market, according to the companies.

Commenting on the acquisition, Jim Crook, IDX CEO, stated that IDX had found the "right partner" from an employee, shareholder, and customer standpoint. Beyond the general statement of broadening the reach of both companies in information technologies, Crook emphasized IDX's strong capabilities in workflow for specialty care and offerings in clinical data repositories as some of the key reasons the company was attractive to GE.

Regarding IDX's relationship with current customers, Crook stated that nothing would change; and the company's opportunities in the U.K. will remain, in fact they might benefit.


Siemens introduces ACUSON Antares ultrasound

Siemens Medical Solutions has introduced its new ACUSON Antares ultrasound system. The new 'premium edition' Antares system is upgradeable and serves as comprehensive clinical capabilities, research functions, enhanced workflow efficiencies, and user-friendly ergonomics.

"The introduction of the ACUSON Antares system, premium edition, creates a common brand for our high-end ultrasound systems, offering an even higher level of diagnostic confidence," said Arnd Kaldowski, vice president, global sales and marketing, Ultrasound Division, Siemens Medical Solutions. "It presents all the elements of a complete premium-performance solution, from acquisition to archive, from 2D through 4D, providing integrated tools for busy and diverse clinical practices and research institutions."


Silex fingerprint authentication can help in securing patient data

Fingerprint authentication is an emerging technology in securing sensitive patient data in healthcare facilities. Silex Technology has two offerings - the Combo-Mini for Windows-based PCs and the SecurePrint System for printers - which are examples of how biometric technology can be used to identify users and effectively lock-down computers and guarantee that print jobs end up in the right hands.

The company's Combo-Mini includes both a fingerprint mini-reader and UIM (SIM) card which connects to a PC via a USB port, providing personal ID access control of PCs and networks. SecurePrint is comprised of a number of hardware and software components that create a secure, biometric network printing system. The system holds the designated print jobs within the print queue until the authorized person can retrieve them from the printer.


Study: CAD aids breast cancer detection in younger women

A new study has reinforced the view of computer aided detection as a powerful tool in finding small, invasive breast cancers (typically 1.0 cm or smaller). According to the October issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology (AJR), the use of CAD increases the ability to detect cancer in women five years younger by as much as 164 percent as opposed to when CAD was not used. Overall, the study found that detection rates for breast cancer increased by 16.1 percent.

The "study showed that CAD can help radiologists find these cancers in women more than five years younger - thus, helping us find the cancers potentially five 'mammography cycles' sooner," said Tommy E. Cupples, MD, the study's lead investigator of the South Carolina Comprehensive Breast Center at Palmetto Richland Memorial Hospital in Columbia, S.C. 

R2 Technology Inc.'s ImageChecker mammography CAD system was used for the study which is the first to prospectively evaluate in a clinical practice CAD's impact on both the size of tumors detected and women's age at diagnosis.


RHIO dawns in San Diego

San Diego County has implemented the San Diego Medical Information Network Exchange (SD MINE) which is a regional health information organization (RHIO) designed to improve patient care, bring down costs, and assist more than 10,000 health care professionals.

The project has been coordinated by the San Diego County Medical Society (SDCMS) Foundation which selected Sun Microsystems to supply its Sun Java Integration Suite. The SDCMS Foundation will roll out the project in phases over the next few months, depending on urgency.


Speed of PSA rise helps predict prostate cancer survival

Physicians can usually determine the clinical outcome of prostate cancer patients treated with hormone therapy and radiation therapy by how rapidly their prostate specific antigen (PSA) level rises following treatment, according to a report published in the Oct. 1st issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics, the official journal of ASTRO.

The study looked at 621 men with prostate cancer treated with hormone and radiation therapy between 1989 and 2003.


FDA to keep better eye on drug safety via cooperation

In a move to boost drug safety and effectiveness, the FDA has selected four industry organizations to help it monitor approved drugs once they are on the market. The drug surveillance will include evaluation of huge volumes of electronic patient records.

The United Health Group Inc. contributing organizations include the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute, Vanderbilt University and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.


FDA clears GE's Innova CT application for 3D images

The Food and Drug Administration has cleared GE Healthcare's Innova CT technology for its Innova digital fluoroscopic imaging systems.

GE's Innova CT technology reconstructs CT-like 3D volumes from rotational fluoroscopy acquisitions for more effective guidance within the interventional suite. These images can help interventionalists in diagnosis, surgical planning, device placement, ablation and embolization in tissue.


Survey defines physician costs for EHRs

The average cost per physician in starting up an EHR system could be as high as $33,000, so says a special issue of Health Affairs that recently released the results of a web and telephone response-based survey. And the up-front capital expense is just for starters, as physicians also will be hit for at least $1,500 in monthly system maintenance. The survey suggests that smaller practices will face higher costs than those seen by larger groups.

The survey, conducted by The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) and researchers from the University of Minnesota, included more than 3,600 physician group practices.

According to the study authors, small practices have lower EHR adoption rates. "We found that about 12 percent of practices with five or fewer full-time-equivalent physicians have EHRs, while practices with more than 10 physicians have higher rates - about 19 percent," according to the survey.


Report: Not all women need routine genetic cancer testing

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has recommended against regular genetic counseling and DNA testing for diseases, according to a recent issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. This is the first time the task force has voiced an opinion on this issue. The USPSTF has recommended against routine testing for gene mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2 which are commonly believed to be linked to breast or ovarian cancers.


Winchester ups capacity for enterprise-class technology

Data storage provider Winchester Systems, Inc. has introduced 400 GB hard drives for its line of Serial ATA (SATA) disk arrays. The company has incorporated WD Caviar RE2 drives into its FlashDisk SATA disk arrays with 12, 16 or 24 drives to provide capacities of 4.8 TB, 6.4 TB or 9.6 TB in a single enclosure. The expandable SATA arrays incorporate a 16-drive base unit and up to three 16-drive expansion units for a total capacity of 25.6 TB.


A-Life releases automated coding for interventional rad

A-Life Medical Inc., a provider of Natural Language Processing (NLP) based systems, has announced the release of automated coding for interventional radiology procedures through A-Life's Actus Application Suite.
 
This new functionality is able to integrate with the Actus application suite, providing complete coding workflow for both diagnostic and interventional medical records in radiology.


Siemens to release wireless tools for interventional rad

Siemens Medical Solutions will soon release a pair of new technologies for the AXIOM Artis family for use in interventional radiology, a wireless footswitch and voice control technology both with applications in x-ray and cath lab suites. Both products are pending 510(k) review. The Wireless Footswitch will be available for the AXIOM Artis angiography and cardiology systems.


GE gets FDA approval for interventional x-ray system

GE Healthcare has received clearance from the FDA for its newest fluoroscopic imaging system, the OEC Altitude. The fixed-room, ceiling-suspended system that provides high-resolution images during real-time fluoro is intended to accommodate the workflow requirements of the operating room. This system is designed to maximize operating room time and increase efficiency in routine procedures with its high power generator, advanced cooling systems, and multiple imaging modes.

GE also has added Motion Tolerant Subtraction (MTS) to the OEC Altitude, an imaging application that can manage movement and allow surgeons to capture sharp, clear images with enhanced details. Patients receive a lower x-ray dose and reduced contrast during fluoroscopic imaging.


Survey: Drop continues in companies providing health coverage to workers

Fewer and fewer businesses are offering health insurance to their workers in a decline that started 5 years ago. And a large part of the problem is premiums that are outpacing inflation and wage increases, according to the 2005 Annual Employer Health Benefits Survey released by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust. Sixty percent of companies surveyed are currently offering coverage to workers, a decline from 69 percent reported in 2000 and 66 percent in 2003. The change largely reflects small businesses which are much more likely to stop offering benefits. Based on the survey, 98 percent of businesses with 200 or more workers are offering benefits.

Overall, premiums have gone up 9.2 percent on average in 2005, down from 11.2 percent in 2004. A little bright note is that this is the first time in five years that the increase hasn't been in the double digits. But the good news ends there.

The full survey is available at www.kff.org/insurance/7315.


Toshiba shipping large-bore CT systems

Touting new "true isotropic resolution to oncology," Toshiba America Medical Systems has announced U.S. shipments of the Aquilion LB, which received FDA clearance in March. The company's large-bore, multislice CT scanner delivers "superior patient positioning with unmatched image quality and clinical performance," Toshiba said.

The Aquilion LB allows for consistent and repeatable patient positioning, according to Doug Ryan, director, CT Business Unit. It optimizes treatment planning, thereby offering the potential to improve patient outcomes during cancer treatment.
 
Claiming the industry's largest bore opening, the Aquilion LB measures 90 cm and provides a 70 cm acquired field-of-view. This allows the system to scan patients of all sizes in various positions.


Xiotech launches new entry-level storage system

Xiotech Corp. recently announced its new Magnitude 3D 3000e, an addition to its Magnitude family of storage products. Magnitude 3D 3000e features a dual-controller cluster topology, is built for ease of use, and can be upgradeable as a business grows.

Magnitude 3D 3000e is now available from both Xiotech direct sales and through value-added resellers (VARs) participating in Xiotech's Dimensional Partner Program.


TeraMedica releases new oncology information manager

TeraMedica, a Milwaukee-based medical informatics company, has launched its new Evercore Oncology Information Manager.

"Evercore Oncology Information Manager integrates and manages all radiation oncology and radiation therapy (RT) information objects, now including the RT ION objects, into a single cohesive infrastructure," said Paul Markham, TeraMedica's vice president of marketing.


3001 Medical announces R&D focus

3001 Medical - a recently launched developer of virtual reality (VR) medical products and VR technology division - announced plans to focus on R&D development of a head-mounted display for medical imaging and procedure guidance along with other technologies. 3001 Medical's imaging display technology is built to enable physicians to display patient-specific radiological images directly in their field of view when performing medical procedures.


CDC invests $4.5 million in disease tracking system

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) awarded a team of Boston researchers a $4.5 million grant to develop a disease tracking system. Researchers from Harvard Medical School, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Children's Hospital Boston and other healthcare organizations will develop medical record software for secure communication between physicians and public health officials.