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Taking a second look at the news so you don’t have to

Medical Profession Slow to Embrace ’Net… or Is It?

As echoed in this month’s [email protected] column, the medical profession has failed to leverage IT to its full advantage. Doctors still commonly rely on paper charts, and a patient’s first visit to a doctor means filling out forms—forms the patient has undoubtedly already filled out.

A study by the Wall Street Journal and research firm Harris Interactive supports this assessment. The study indicates overwhelming popular support for what can be seen as fairly simple technological improvements—conveniences such as the ability to use e-mail for appointment scheduling. While it’s unclear how many of these advances might be hindered by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) compliance restrictions, it is clear that patients are dissatisfied.

The good news is that other sectors of the medical profession are more successfully taking advantage of today’s networked world. For example, a new Quest- and Cisco-powered technology puts doctors at some California hospitals in contact with translators for their non-English-speaking patients. In the past, medical care was compromised by the 15- to 30-minute delay required to find a translator. The new system, called the Health Care Interpreter Network (HCIN), uses videoconferencing to connect doctors and translators almost immediately.


Accessibility Features Not Just for the Disabled

A study by usability specialists Nomensa revealed that many of the world’s top online retail sites fail to meet the accessibility standards established by the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The goal of the guidelines is to make Web content accessible to those with disabilities and, in so doing, make it more accessible to everyone. The study cited widespread problems such as pop-up windows, which, in addition to being annoying, pose a problem for people using screen readers.

The Nomensa study focused on Web sites, but news about upcoming releases of Microsoft and Apple software offers a glimpse into where the traditional software world stands on accessibility. Apple is shipping its latest OS X version with built-in screen-reading software to help visually impaired users. Microsoft’s upcoming Vista operating system will include improved usability features such as built-in speech-to-text software and better screen-magnification capabilities. Microsoft decided to update these features after research showed, much like the W3C guidelines, that accessibility features can benefit all users, regardless of disability.


Emerging Markets Embrace 64-bit

In his article in last month’s Queue, John Mashey described how large transitions in computer architecture take a long time and cause developers all kinds of pain and suffering. A large part of these transitions involves migrating huge bases of installed code to the new system, a process that has been likened to changing the engines of an airplane while it’s still in flight.

While entrenched players in the software world struggle to migrate their apps, opportunities emerge for new companies not burdened by the migration issue, particularly those in emerging markets. A recent study by Evans Data Corporation predicts that over the next 12 months 56 percent of developers in countries such as India, China, and Brazil will be writing for 64-bit chips, compared with an expected 23 percent of North American developers. In a press release, Evans president John Andrews summed up the situation, stating, “Because these regions have fewer migration issues, developers are able to write new and direct applications that take advantage of these architectures.” Time will tell if these emerging markets represent the future of 64-bit computing.



Originally published in Queue vol. 4, no. 9
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