Article Content


Healthcare professionals have known for a long time that common diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes and even rare diseases, like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia, can run in families. If one generation of a family has high blood pressure, it is not unusual for the next generation to have similarly high blood pressure. Tracing the illnesses experienced by parents, grandparents, and other blood relatives can help physicians predict disorders for which patients may be at risk and take action to preserve health.


To help focus attention on the importance of family history, the Surgeon General, in cooperation with other agencies with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has launched a national public health campaign, called the Surgeon General's Family History Initiative, to encourage all American families to learn more about their family health history.


In addition to the Office of the Surgeon General, other HHS agencies involved in this project include the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).


Acting Surgeon General, Steven K. Galson, MD, MPH, has declared Thanksgiving as National Family History Day. Over the holiday or at other times when families gather, the Surgeon General encourages Americans to talk about, and to write down, the health problems that seem to run in their families.


Because family health history is such a powerful screening tool, the Surgeon General has created a new computerized tool to capture health details and history across generations.


A new, revised version of the tool, called "My Family Health Portrait," can be found at "My Family Health Portrait" is a Web-enabled program that runs on any computer connected to the Internet with an up-to-date version of any major Internet browser. Previous versions, which had to be downloaded to the user's computer, worked only with the Microsoft Windows operating system.


The Web-based tool helps users organize family history information and then print it out for presentation to a primary care provider. In addition, the tool helps users save family history information to a local computer and enables sharing with other family members.


The tool can create and print out a graphical representation of a family's generations and the health disorders that may have moved from one generation to the next. The My Family Health Portrait software can also be downloaded directly onto computers. The downloadable version of the tool can be accessed at


The US Surgeon General makes the tool freely available to all users. No user information is saved on any computer of the US federal government. See the "Privacy and Security Policy" on the tool for more information.


For more information on other activities of the Office of the Surgeon General, please visit



A wide range of new resources is available now to help West Virginians-including physicians, other healthcare providers, and consumers-understand electronic health records, which are gradually replacing traditional paper records.


These resources are available both in printed form and electronically in downloadable form at Also available at the Web site is more information about electronic health records and health information exchange.


The eHealthWV effort-funded as part of a federal grant to educate consumers about electronic health records and the privacy and security issues related to them-has provided the information because the switch to electronic records has begun in West Virginia, and the pace is expected to pick up in the next few years.


The West Virginia effort is part of a national effort to educate consumers and providers about the importance of privacy and security in using electronic health records. The federal government has set a goal for most Americans to have electronic health records by 2014.



Technology is often touted as the "cure" for healthcare, but a new Joint Commission Sentinel Event Alert warns that implementation of technology and related devices is not a guarantee for success and may actually jeopardize the quality and safety of patient care.


The Joint Commission's alert urges greater attention to understanding when a technology may (or may not) be applicable, choosing the right technology, understanding the impact that technology can have on the quality and safety of patient care, and attempting to quickly fix technology when it becomes counterproductive. The alert makes clear that the overall safety and effectiveness of technology in healthcare ultimately depend on its human users and that any form of technology can have a negative impact on the quality and safety of care if it is designed or implemented improperly or is misinterpreted.


The alert notes that there are very little data on the number of errors directly caused by the increasing combined use of health information and devices. As an example, however, root cause analysis of errors shows that computerized medication orders and automated dispensing cabinets for medications are frequently involved. In addition to specific recommendations contained in the alert, The Joint Commission urges healthcare organizations to use its information management accreditation standards to improve patient safety while using technology. Because technology is so common in healthcare-from admitting patients to the operating room to ordering and administering medication-any Joint Commission accreditation standard can be tied to technology.


The alert notes that the implementation of technology can threaten care and patient safety when


* clinicians and other staff are not included in the planning process


* providers do not consider the impact of technology on care processes, workflow, and safety


* technology is not fixed when it becomes counterproductive


* technology is not updated



To reduce the risk of errors related to health information and technology, The Joint Commission's Sentinel Event Alert recommends that healthcare organizations take a series of 13 specific steps, including the following:


* Look for possible risks in how caregivers carry out their work and resolve these issues before putting technology into place.


* Involve the caregivers who will ultimately use the technology.


* Train everyone who will be using the technology and provide frequent refresher courses.


* Make clear who is authorized and responsible for technology-from putting it into use to reviewing safety.


* Continually seek ways to improve safety and discover errors.



Other strategies for reducing technology-related errors include avoiding distractions for staff using technology, monitoring and reporting errors and near misses to find the causes, and protecting the security of information.


The warning about preventing technology-related errors is part of a series of alerts issued by The Joint Commission. Previous alerts have addressed anticoagulants, wrong-site surgery, medication mix-ups, healthcare-associated infections, and patient suicides, among others. The complete list and text of past issues of Sentinel Event Alert can be found on The Joint Commission Web site at



GefenTV has announced a new product, Ethernet Over PLC Extender, that offers an easy, convenient method of Ethernet distribution without rewiring or running new cables.


Users simply tap into their existing, in-wall power line cables to extend up to four Ethernet connections throughout the home or office. A DSL, cable, or satellite Ethernet signal is distributed throughout the home using small sender and receiver units equipped with Ethernet RJ-45 ports that transmit data up to 200 Mbps to guarantee a rapid data delivery.


The ability to use power lines in the walls of a home or office to access the Internet saves money on cabling costs while improving the installation process. No additional cables are needed to connect the GefenTV Ethernet Over PLC sender unit to the receiver, which can be placed up to 1000 ft (300 m) apart.


The sender unit connects an active DSL, cable, or satellite Ethernet router into any standard walljack power outlet. The receiver unit is connected to the power outlet in another room where the user is working. Once both units are powered, four Ethernet ports on the receiver unit will be active.


All 10/100BASE-T Ethernet protocols are passed through the GefenTV Ethernet Over PLC Extender at speeds up to 200 Mbps, making it perform better than some of today's Wi-Fi systems. Built-in security codes protect the system.


Gefen also supplies a GefenTV Ethernet Over Coax solution, which allows users to connect sender and receiver units to a home's existing coaxial cable to distribute the Internet to any room. The sender unit links the Ethernet signal to the in-wall cable infrastructure using a coaxial port, while the receiver delivers four active Internet connections to any other room in the same building.


Gefen provides connectivity solutions with signal extension, integration, optimization, distribution, and conversion capabilities, and its add-on hardware maximizes functionality by enabling systems to operate beyond their original capabilities. The GefenTV line offers professional-quality engineering streamlined for consumer-based audio and video systems. A selection of high-quality cabling is also available. Visit for detailed product information.