Health Information Technology Inches Forward

While health care legislation is stalled, movement continues on increasing the use of both health information technology and electronic health records. The National Coordinator for Health IT is coordinating this effort. Created as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, two Health IT committees, one on Policy and one on Standards, have been meeting since April, and both met in late August. On each committee’s website, there are archives of meeting materials from each committee meeting to date. They are very thorough and worth reviewing.

In two recent updates, Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health IT, outlined how he sees these changes unfolding. The first major initiative was the announcement of grants in support of Health IT Regional Extension Centers, and a separate grants program for states and qualified entities to develop streamlined and simplified policies, procedures and systems for electronic information exchange. While there will be technical challenges in rolling out more health information technology and electronic health records, the emphasis of the National Coordinator suggests that implementation will be a bigger hurdle for implementing health information technology. My observations of the most recent Health IT committee meetings supports this idea.
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FCC Seeks Comments on Definition of Broadband

As part of the National Broadband Plan that is within the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeks “tailored comment on a fundamental question—how the Plan should interpret the term “broadband” as used in the Recovery Act, recognizing that our interpretation of the term as used in that statute may inform our interpretation of the term in other contexts.” The FCC currently considers any network speed above 786 kilobytes per second as broadband. The Commission doesn’t just want a new numerical threshold, but comments on:

  • (1) the general form, characteristics, and performance indicators that should be included in a definition of broadband;
  • (2) the thresholds that should be assigned to these performance indicators today; and
  • (3) how the definition should be reevaluated over time.

The window for comments closes on August 31st. Reply Comments (responses to comments filed) are accepted until September 8. As the notice linked to at the beginning of the post notes, comments can be submitted online, by mail, or in person.

Policy Highlights from Communications of the ACM – August 2009 (Vol. 52, No. 8)

Below is a list of items with policy relevance from the August issue of Communications of the ACM. As always, much of the material in CACM is premium content, and free content one month may slip behind a pay wall the next. You need to be a member of ACM or a subscriber to CACM to access premium content online.


Just for You, Don Monroe

An article on the Netflix Prize, a contest sponsored by the DVD rental company that has spurred research in recommender systems. Monroe uses the prize to discuss the many different components of recommender systems research, and how the Prize focuses on just one aspect of this research.

Face Recognition Breakthrough, Kirk Kroeker

A new facial recognition method shows potential in performing even when the images are partially obscured or corrupted. If scalable, such a method could provide easier ways to search images, tag multimedia, and monitor people.

IT Drives Policy – and Vice Versa, Tom Geller

A report on the Tech Policy Summit held in May 2009 in the Bay Area. It notes that IT and policy discussions have broadened to include topics not usually known for an IT component, like health care.

U.S. Unveils Cybersecurity Plan, Gregory Goth

A review of the Obama Administration’s cybersecurity plan, released in May.

USACM Comments on Government Website Policy on Web Tracking Technologies

In response to a request for comment from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, today USACM submitted comments on how federal government websites should use web tracking technologies. These technologies include, but are not limited to, cookies, little bits of code that can be deposited on your computer to help the web site your visiting remember things about you. Other web tracking technologies include deep packet inspection and web bugs. Specific areas that the government sought comments on included:

  • The basic principles governing the use of such technologies;
  • The appropriate tiers;
  • The acceptable use and restrictions of each tier;
  • The degree of clear and conspicuous notice on each website that web tracking technologies are being used;
  • The applicability and scope of such a framework on Federal agency use of third-party applications or websites;
  • The choice between an opt-in versus opt-out approach for users;
  • Unintended or non-obvious privacy implications;

USACM took care to recognize that web-tracking technologies have definite benefits, both for consumers and for website operators:
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