Researchers Building Microchips That Mimic Live Human Organs

By Anne Quito // Quartz // July 6, 2015

Robert Lucian Crusitu/

The Human Organs-on-a-Chip, designed to revolutionize clinical testing and research, bested 75 other finalists in the 2015 Design of the Year by the Design Museum in London. The contenders included the Google self-driving car, Norway’s new banknotes, and Rodarte’s covetable couture Star Wars gowns.

Human Organs-on-a-Chip acts like lab surrogates for actual human organs, like lab test animals. Invented by Donald Ingber and Dan Dongeun Huh at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, these special chips, about the size of a computer memory stick, recreate the biochemistry and the mechanical function of human organs in a piece of rubber.

Etched with hollow channels designed to be lined with actual living human cells (harvested stem cells), the translucent chips have specific patterns that correspond with the microarchitecture of a specific human organ. They are flexible so scientists can apply mechanical force to mimic the movement of organs. The lung-on-a-chip, liver-on-a-chip, and gut-on-the chip were reviewed by Design Museum’s award committee.

“Its selection as Design of the Year 2015 also signifies a desire to recognise and award design that can significantly impact society now and in the future,” said curator Gemma Curtin.

Cheaper, faster, more accurate...

VA Demos Prototype for New Patient Record System

By Mohana Ravindranath // June 12, 2015

The Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Hospital
The Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Hospital // Jim Mone/AP File Photo

The Department of Veterans Affairs is designing a new platform that can pull patient records from disparate hospital systems into one virtual place, potentially giving physicians a more complete look at a patient's history. 

The Enterprise Health Management Platform, or eHMP, is still in its early stages. Pilots in a few cities including Portland, Oregon and San Antonio, Texas, are scheduled to begin in July. But during a briefing with reporters Thursday, VA officials were eager to demonstrate progress on the prototype, though it's still buggy -- a pop-up information box lingers after the user moves the cursor away, for instance.

The current version of eHMP is read-only, meaning clinicians can use it to view patient records from VA, the Defense Department and community health partners through an electronic health information exchange. But it's an improvement on VA's current platform -- the Computerized Patient Record System -- because it lets clinicians search beyond files stored at their location, Neil Evans, ‎co-director of connected health at the Veterans Health Administration, said during the demonstration. Currently, a care provider must use a remote-viewing application to access records from other facilities.  

A more integrated system could help care providers see which drugs...

CMS Opens Up Data to Businesses in Bid to Spur Innovation

By Mohana Ravindranath // June 2, 2015

Acting CMS Administration Andy Slavitt
Acting CMS Administration Andy Slavitt // Evan Vucci/AP

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is actively encouraging businesses to build better technology -- using the agency's data.

In a keynote address during the annual "Health Datapalooza" in Washington on Tuesday, acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt announced CMS was for the first time giving businesses access to CMS data, previously only granted to researchers.

Leaders at the Department of Health and Human Services hope these groups can come up with technology that might improve care, possibly by helping health care providers make personalized decisions based on individuals’ data, Slavitt said.

“In taking this step, we are challenging others with proprietary data to follow our lead,” he said.

The agency also plans to update its health data for researchers and businesses more frequently, and in a more machine-readable format, Slavitt added.

“In an information age, it is just not acceptable that the most recent Medicare data available is from 2013," he said.

Slavitt reminded researchers and businesses who are analyzing data to prioritize patient privacy, noting, “progress will simply not be possible without consumer trust.”

HHS Cracks Down on Hospitals Hoarding Patient Information

By Mohana Ravindranath // April 10, 2015

Brian A Jackson/

It could be years before patients move freely between health care systems followed seamlessly by their electronic health records.

Are technology developers -- and big health care conglomerates -- to blame?

The Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT is paying special attention to health systems engaging in “information blocking" -- knowingly, and sometimes "unreasonably," interfering with the exchange of information.

On Friday, ONC issued a report to Congress about allegations that health care providers and IT developers are working to block the exchange of patient information, especially to competitor health systems.

For instance, larger hospital systems are less likely than smaller ones to exchange electronic health information externally with competing hospitals and unaffiliated providers, the report found. Hospitals that have “invested significant resources internally to deliver more valuable care” could be less likely to exchange information with unaffiliated providers.

ONC compiled the report based on complaints to HHS. During a conference call Friday, agency heads acknowledged there isn’t yet much quantifiable information about the practice.

Most complaints about information blocking are directed at health IT developers, the report said -- developers sometimes charge fees for customers (health care systems) to send, receive or export electronic...

Senators Want to Speed Adoption of Electronic Health Records Systems

By Mohana Ravindranath // March 18, 2015

Brian A Jackson/

It could be years before patient health records flow seamlessly between hospitals, despite federal and state efforts to encourage information exchange. Earlier this week, lawmakers asked representatives from the private sector how they could speed up that process.

The federal government has invested about $30 billion in Medicare and Medicaid incentive programs that reimburse health care providers if they install electronic health records systems, and if they demonstrate that those systems improve the quality of care. Starting in 2015, eligible providers could see their reimbursements reduced -- a form of a penalty -- if they don’t demonstrate so-called “meaningful use” of their EHR systems.

During a hearing at the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., asked witnesses what could be preventing hospitals and health care providers from adopting EHR systems.

So far, he noted, about 48 percent of physicians and 59 percent of hospitals have at least a basic EHR system in place. (The Defense Department is currently reviewing bids for a potentially $11 billion, 10-year revamp of its own health records, with bids from tech companies including IBM and Epic, as well as Leidos and Accenture Federal.)

For some, said Robert Wergin, president of...