HHS uses widgets and live blogging

The widget created to help consumers get the latest online information on the Health and Human Services Department’s recall of peanuts has generated 40 million hits, according to a new report.

The department’s widgets are icons and their associated code that can be placed on Web sites. HHS is currently offering several widgets that link to department Web sites that offer updates on food safety, swine flu and spending under the economic stimulus law, according to a 15-page HHS progress report posted to the Web on April 29.

The report offers updates and details on HHS’ implementation of major administration programs, including health information technology incentives, emergency responses to the H1N1 swine flu virus and health care reform.

HHS said it uses several technologies, including Web sites, e-mail systems, widgets, live blogging, mapping and webcast videos.

“The peanut widget alone generated 40 million hits to the Food and Drug Administration’s Web site, the report said. HHS also coordinated a satellite media tour after the peanut recall to make consumers aware of potentially dangerous products.

About 15,000 people subscribe to HHS Health Reform news updates, and the department also has sponsored several live webcasts on the subject that featured live blogging by department officials, the report said.

HHS’ Web site for tracking money provided by the economic stimulus law includes a map that shows obligations to each state. The Web site also has a link allowing visitors to report suspected fraud and abuse of the funds.

Despite those activities, some critics say HHS has a mixed record for using information technology. A well-known blogger, David Stephenson, recently criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for not providing more easily mapped online information to track the latest swine flu infections.

“During [Hurricane] Katrina, I was a broken record in my homeland security/emergency communications blog raking federal agencies over the coals for not realizing the need for a Web-centric 24/7 communications strategy," Stephenson wrote on the Tech President blog April 30. "Now I'm on the backs of CDC and the World Health Organization for the same failure during the current H1N1 crisis.”

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