HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology reorganized into divisions for IT adoption: the Immediate Office of the National Coordinator, interoperability and standards, programs and coordination, and policy and research. Heads of the four latter offices probably won't be hired for several months, coordinator David Brailer, M.D., says. President Bush created the IT coordinator's office by executive order in 2004. The reorganization represents a "maturing of the office to support a broader staff," Brailer says. He says fewer than 100 permanent employees would work in the office, but contract and support staff would be added as needed. The new structure is "consistent" with legislative proposals to codify the coordinator's office into a permanent part of the federal government, Brailer says.
Not in compliance? No money
The CMS says that as of Oct. 1, it will no longer process any electronic fee-for-service Medicare claims that do not meet standards set by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. About 0.5% of electronic fee-for-service claims were not HIPAA-compliant as of June, including 1.45% of fee-for-service hospital claims, the CMS says. Provider claims originally were supposed to be compliant by Oct. 16, 2003, but the CMS eliminated the deadline because only 31% of Medicare claims were compliant at the time. Under a contingency plan, providers were required to make a diligent and reasonable effort to attain compliance. The contingency plan still applies to other electronic transactions, the CMS says.
Cutting into poor outcomes
A coalition of federal agencies and healthcare industry groups picked up a surgical quality-improvement program begun by the Veterans Affairs Department and launched it nationally with the goal of having every U.S. hospital that performs surgeries participating by 2006. The Surgical Care Improvement Project, run through the CMS' QualityNet data exchange, asks hospitals to submit up to 22 performance measures related to four types of post-surgical complications: wound infections, deep-vein thrombosis, perioperative heart attack and ventilator-associated pneumonia. Complications follow an estimated 5% of surgeries, and the coalition hopes to reduce that rate by one-fourth by 2010. Some data could be made public by 2007, but which data hasn't been decided, says Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient-safety policy at the American Hospital Association, a participant in the coalition. Also participating are the CMS, the VA, the American College of Surgeons, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
Boom times for IT vendors
Healthcare information technology, particularly for the ambulatory-care market, is a fast-growing business, and IT vendors likely will gain value on Wall Street, according to a new report from Leerink Swann & Co., Boston. The investment banking firm predicts the stock of vendors Allscripts Healthcare Solutions, Cerner Corp. and Quality Systems will "outperform" the market and gives "market perform" ratings to Eclipsys Corp. and IDX Systems Corp.
Medcon sale closes
McKesson Corp., San Francisco, completed its $105 million acquisition of Medcon, an Israel-based provider of cardiology imaging and information management technology. The deal was announced in June. Medcon, which reported $17 million in sales in 2004, will become part of McKesson Provider Technologies. Medcon's chief executive officer in a June news release said he sees the merger as an opportunity to bring the company's products to a broader market.
Cerner lands Defense contract
Cerner Corp. signed a 10-year agreement with the Defense Department to provide medical-records software to the U.S. military's 100 hospitals and 400 clinics around the world. Cerner officials declined to release financial details of the deal, but spokeswoman Tracy Richardson says it's the largest laboratory contract in the company's 25-year history. The Defense Department said the project is worth up to $51 million. The deal expands the company's relationship with the military, which in 1995 signed up to use Cerner's anatomic pathology software in its labs. The new deal extends software to the military's clinical labs, which process records for 9 million service members and their families.
E-fraud fighting works
With the help of a new hot line to report fraud and an antifraud Web site, the nation's 40 independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans saved and recovered a total of $228 million in 2004 through coordinated antifraud efforts, according to the national Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. That includes $120 million recovered through court proceedings, voluntary repayments and settlements, and $108 million in losses prevented through prepayment review and other stopgap measures. The Blues' fraud-fighting efforts saved $240 million in 2003.