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HHS releases early detection system through Twitter

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON — The Department of Health and Human Services last week unveiled a new free Web-based application, MappyHealth, which utilizes Twitter to help track health concerns at the community level in real time.

“Having real-time information available in the public domain through social media like Twitter could be revolutionary for health officials watching out for the first clues to new, emerging infectious diseases in our communities and for modernizing our public health system,” stated Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response and a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service. “We were excited to receive so many innovative submissions to our challenge because our goal is to stimulate creativity in the market so that better tools develop to improve public health surveillance locally and worldwide.”

MappyHealth is the winning submission of 33 applicants in a developers’ challenge, “Now Trending: #Health in My Community,” sponsored by HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. Health officials can use data they gain through the app to complement other health surveillance systems in identifying emerging health issues and as an early warning of possible public health emergencies in a community.

The challenge grew from a request made by local health officials to ASPR for help in developing a Web-based tool that could make social media monitoring more accessible to local health departments. Studies of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and the Haiti cholera outbreak demonstrated that social media trends can indicate disease outbreaks earlier than conventional surveillance methods. However, many Web-based apps look back after a disease outbreak, rather than attempting to identify health trends as they emerge in real time.

The MappyHealth development team wins a $21,000 prize for the application. The new application will be available in the next few weeks to state, territorial, tribal and local health agencies.

The Now Trending challenge was the second public health challenge sponsored by ASPR in the past year. Through the first challenge, the ASPR Facebook Lifeline App Challenge, developers designed a new Facebook application, bReddi, that could enhance individual and community resilience by establishing social connections in advance of an emergency. The winning lifeline apps became available June 1 on Facebook to help people create and share preparedness plans and get support from friends and family in any type of emergency.


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Omron launches nonprescription TENS device into mass retail

BY Michael Johnsen

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Omron Healthcare on Tuesday introduced a new electrotherapy solution for muscle and joint pain relief called the Omron ElectroTherapy Pain Relief unit.

“There are as many as 100 million people in the U.S. with acute or chronic pain,” Omron senior product manager Maureen Perou said. “What’s different about this product is that it demystifies and simplifies a time-tested therapy. It’s like having a physical therapist by your side whenever you need it.”

Utilizing TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) technology, the Omron ElectroTherapy device is easy to use and helps relieve pain wherever it is needed most. The pads for the Omron ElectroTherapy unit are placed near the site of the pain and safely deliver gentle, massage-like pulses to alleviate stiff, achy, or sore muscles or joints.

The TENS device has been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration cleared and is being launched in conjunction with a new educational website, Omronpainrelief.com.

Suggested retail price for the device will be $69.99.


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DME and the competitive bidding rules: Freezing out mom-and-pops and patients

BY Jim Frederick

Will Congress rip away the ability of independent and small chain pharmacies to sell diabetic supplies and durable medical equipment to Medicare patients?

That’s the essential question being debated by the U.S. House Small Business Subcommittee on Healthcare and Technology. The congressional panel is mulling a proposal from some lawmakers to exempt smaller pharmacy operators — defined as those with 10 or fewer locations — from the new Medicare competitive bidding program.

Freeing small pharmacies from those burdensome bidding regulations is critically important, both to patient access to needed health supplies, and to the notion of free-market competition and a level playing field, the National Community Pharmacists Association said. One of its members, independent pharmacy owner Randy Mire of Gem Drugs in Louisiana, testified before the House subcommittee last week in support of H.R. 1936, The Medicare Access to Diabetes Supplies Act. The bipartisan legislation would allow small pharmacies to continue to furnish patients with diabetes testing supplies and personalized counseling on their proper use, without having to submit to lengthy and cost-prohibitive competitive bidding rules.

Mire serves patients in small-town and rural parts of the Bayou State, where access to DME supplies is severely limited for many Medicare beneficiaries. Gem Drugs, he told congressional representatives, "is one of the very few pharmacies still in the area that provides these essential DME supplies to patients." Mire said he wouldn’t be able to continue providing diabetic supplies, wheelchairs and other DME if he’s forced to bid for the business and accept sharply reduced payments.

He isn’t alone. In a survey conducted by NCPA, more than 9-out-of-10 independent pharmacy owners said they would have to exit the Medicare diabetes test supply program if presented with a sharp reduction in payments. And 83% of them said the impact on patients if they had to obtain diabetes supplies from mail order would be significant.

As Drug Store News senior editor Mike Johnsen put it, reducing the costs that the government pays for DME for Medicare patients through competitive bidding would “succeed in reducing the overall cost of care in much the same way the cost of sugarcane would be reduced in a sugar-free zone.

"If you can’t access the care, you can’t pay for it and, consequently, the cost of that care is less expensive," Johnsen writes. "How’s that for backward math?"

Are Mire, NCPA and Johnsen right? Should small pharmacy owners be exempted from competitive bidding, or are they overstating the potential damage to pharmacies and patients that the new bidding requirements would cause? Let us know what you think.

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