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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 (
  • <>Compliance certification ($2.7 million): Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (

  • 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 (

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