The Medical College Admission Test, the multiple-choice entry exam for future physicians, will be converted to an entirely computer-based format within the next two years, the Association of American Medical Colleges announced. The exam also will be pared down, an AAMC spokeswoman says. The current MCAT exam includes 214 questions covering three broad areas -- physical sciences, verbal reasoning and biological sciences -- and a writing sample. Administra-tors say they believe they can get just as clear a picture of an applicant's potential with a more streamlined version of the exam. With about one-third of the questions eliminated, the new test will take about five hours to complete, down from as many as 10 hours with the pencil-and-paper version.
IT bill sees daylight
A bill to encourage providers to adopt information technology passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The bill will fund $275 million in grants to providers over two years and establish a quality measurement system to award bonuses to providers for improving care with technology. It also will cod-ify HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, created by presidential order last year, and authorizes $5 million in grants in 2007 for demonstration projects integrating IT into medical education.
The public on privacy
Generally, consumer attitudes favor the use of electronic medical- records systems, although privacy concerns are a thread running through the results of an online survey released by management and information technology consulting firm Accenture. The survey was based on 619 online interviews of people with Internet access. Sixty percent of respondents say they thought medical care would improve if doctors had electronic records of their medical history. Asked about five potential risks of having an EMR, the top concern chosen by 30% of respondents is that their information could be revealed without their approval.
Failing grade for doc report cards
Hospitals' use of confidential report cards for physicians is "unlikely to be a sufficient strategy for healthcare quality improvement," according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal found that appropriate prescribing of beta blockers -- as measured by the number of elderly heart-attack patients who filled beta-blocker prescriptions -- did not appear to improve significantly at hospitals using "rapid feedback" in the form of in-house report cards compared with hospitals that obtained data 14 months later. The study "supports some earlier work that showed a one-time intervention of any sort is not an effective way to achieve sustained improvement in the quality of care being offered," says Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient-safety policy at the American Hospital Association.
Evaluating plans' chronic care
The National Committee for Quality Assurance released a new way to evaluate how well health plans treat members with chronic conditions in asthma, cardiac care, diabetes and mental health. The free Web-based tool, called the Living with Illness Report, uses 13 of the 60 existing measures in the Health Plan Employer Data and Information Set. Previously the data were available only for purchase as part of the NCQA's Quality Compass, at a minimum cost of $3,150 for a single user. "We think it's going to be of interest to employers, consultants and health plans," NCQA spokes-man Brian Schilling says of the resource.
Former McKesson CFO cleared
Former McKesson Corp. Chief Financial Officer Richard Hawkins, in his federal criminal bench trial, was acquitted on all counts regarding his responsibility for overstated earnings after the company's 1999 purchase of software maker HBO & Co. Hawkins was charged with securities fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud and lying to auditors.
U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins in San Francisco said he found Hawkins more credible than his accusers, several of whom had plea agreements containing promises of leniency in return for cooperation. Jenkins also said he did not see that the government had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Hawkins "intentionally or with reckless disregard for the truth of mater-ial misleading statements" engaged in any behavior that constituted fraud or deceit upon stockholders.
Adopt ICD-10 now: AHIMA
The benefits of adopting 21st cent-ury health information technology will be lessened if the U.S. keeps using a 1970s-era health-data coding system, said Linda Kloss, chief executive officer of the American Health Information Management Association, while testifying recently before the U.S. House Ways and Means' Health Subcommittee. Kloss said HHS needs to immediately initiate the regulatory process for adopting the 10th revision of the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases for mortality and morbid-ity -- or ICD-10 -- as 99 other countries have already done. By sticking with its clinical modification of ICD-9, she said the U.S. is stuck with a system that fails to capture current medical knowledge, wastes money through the use of vague or incorrect coding, and requires the "excessive reliance" of supporting paper documents.