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  November 2004 Newsbytes

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cap today

Raymond D. Aller, MD
Hal Weiner
Michael Weilert, MD

Radio-frequency identification: coming soon to a patient near you?
Government to spend millions on health information technology projects
QC OnCall software available with Instrument Manager
Atlas partners with Dundas Software to enhance graphical reporting

Radio-frequency identification: coming soon to a patient near you?

Radio-frequency identification devices benefit retailers, but are they appropriate for hospital patients and staff? We may soon find out. In October, the FDA approved VeriChip, a radio-frequency identification device that was implanted in humans for the first time in 2002.

Marketed by VeriChip Corp., a privately held subsidiary of Applied Digital Corp., VeriChip emits a signal that contains a user’s personal verification number. In a health care setting, that number could provide access to a secured database containing personal information, including medical history.

A syringe is used to implant the tiny chip, about the size of a grain of rice, under the skin of the arm during an outpatient procedure. The chip is coated with a material called BioBond, which allows it to bond to surrounding tissue within 24 hours. "So it does not migrate at all—it stays where it’s been implanted," says Angela Fulcher, vice president of marketing and communication for Applied Digital.

The signal in VeriChip is activated when the device is scanned by one of the company’s scanners. The chip is disabled when it is removed from the arm via a simple surgical procedure.

The chip was already being marketed to the standard security and financial markets in the United States and abroad. In Mexico, for example, only government staff implanted with the chip can access certain parts of the attorney general’s headquarters. And the Italian Ministry of Health is wrapping up a six-month trial in which the chip is being used in hospitals.

A similar device, developed by VeriChip’s sister company, Digital Angel, has been used in animals for nearly two decades, Fulcher says. "Our studies in the animal world have shown that it’s lasted almost up to 20 years with no problems," she adds.

For some, however, health issues may be less of a concern than privacy issues. Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a San Diego-based consumer advocacy group, fears the chip potentially could be misused down the road. "It’s the function creep principle at work: today hospitals, tomorrow Alzheimer’s patients in the nursing home, then prisoners confined to their homes, then mentally retarded youth, and so on," says Givens, who believes the medical community should adopt guidelines prohibiting such devices from being implanted under the skin. The chips should be embedded in tags, buttons, or wristbands that can be easily removed when the patient leaves the hospital, she suggests.

Applied Digital will work with medical supply distributors to market the chip as a medical device. "We’ve had good, positive feedback," Fulcher says, "so we are proceeding very optimistically."

Government to spend millions on health information technology projects

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality last month awarded $139 million in contracts and grants to promote the use of health information technology through the development of networks for sharing clinical data as well as projects for planning, implementing, and demonstrating the value of such technology. However, Congress has approved spending only $50 million the first year; the remainder is subject to further congressional appropriation.

The AHRQ awarded $25 million in grants to Colorado, Indiana, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Utah to develop statewide health information networks. Each state is slated to receive $1 million a year for five years.

The agency also awarded over 100 grants in 38 states, totaling $96 million, to help communities, hospitals, providers, and health care systems plan, implement, and demonstrate the value of health information technology. The planning grants are to support the development of an HIT infrastructure and data sharing among clinical provider organizations and to help communities compete for future implementation grants. The implementation grants support community-wide HIT, emphasizing the needs of diverse and rural health care settings. The grants to demonstrate the value of HIT will focus on how such technology can improve patient safety and quality of care.

As part of the project, NORC, the National Organization for Research at the University of Chicago, will create the National Health Information Technology Resource Center. The AHRQ awarded NORC a two-year contract, renewable for up to three years, which could cost approximately $18.5 million.

The goals of the AHRQ’s research projects are specifically to improve patient safety by reducing medical errors; increase health information sharing between providers, labs, pharmacies, and patients; help patients transition between health care settings; reduce duplicative and unnecessary testing; and increase knowledge and understanding of the clinical, safety, quality, financial, and organizational value and benefits of health information technology.

In a related effort, the Department of Health and Human Services is planning to publish a request for information later this year, seeking ideas for designing and deploying a national health information infrastructure that includes tools and services to achieve nationwide interoperability of electronic medical data. The request will assist HHS in determining if there are already scalable technologies available in the marketplace that could be used as the platform for a nationwide network, rather than developing such technologies from scratch. The responses from the request for information will be used by HHS as a foundation on which the federal government can build a nationwide health information network.

QC OnCall software available with Instrument Manager

Bio-Rad Laboratories’ QC OnCall software application is now available with Data Innovations’ Instrument Manager software, allowing the automatic, real-time, bi-directional transfer of quality control data between Instrument Manager and QC OnCall.

Instrument Manager transfers QC data to QC OnCall software, where it is analyzed using statistical rules set by the laboratory. Notification of QC rule violations is sent back to Instrument Manager, where the user can set rules to trigger multiple events, including pager notification, holding of subsequent patient results for review, or flagging of results before they are sent to the laboratory information system.

Atlas partners with Dundas Software to enhance graphical reporting

Atlas Medical Software recently announced that it has embedded graphing and charting capabilities from Dundas Software, a computer visualization software provider, into its LabWorks outreach system. Atlas has also embedded Dundas’ graphical enhancements into its LabWorks handheld edition.

 

JulySoft and AcerMed collaborate on reporting laboratory test results

JulySoft recently integrated its LabRetriever laboratory results inquiry system with AcerMed’s electronic medical records suite, allowing users of AcerMed’s EMRsuite to provide patients with lab test results around-the-clock and to receive verification reports automatically.

Using LabRetriever, recorded lab results messages are assigned automatically and made available to patients by telephone at any time. Once patients retrieve their lab results messages, a confirmation time and date stamp for each retrieved result is automatically attached to their AcerMed electronic medical record.

"Though we’ve been successfully integrating our patient reminder system, ReminderPro, with AcerMed for many years, this is our first bi-directional integration for LabRetriever," says Lew Lepley, JulySoft’s president and CEO.

Contracts

Stanford University Medical Center has contracted for Wyndgate Technologies’ SafeTrace Tx advanced transfusion management system. The contract makes Stanford the largest SafeTrace Tx client on the West Coast.

 

HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Mechanicsburg (Pa.) has purchased Vianeta Harmony, a unified, Web-based health information management software platform marketed by Vianeta Communications.

 

Dr. Aller is director of bioterrorism preparedness and response for Los Angeles County Public Health Acute Communicable Diseases. He can be reached at raller@ladhs.org. Hal Weiner is president of Weiner Consulting Services, LLC, Florence, Ore. He can be reached at hal@weinerconsulting.com. Dr. Weilert is director of laboratories, Community Hospitals of Central California, Fresno. He can be reached at mweilertmd@communitymedical.org