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Braindead? Sip of cocoa may clear the cobwebs

Chocoholics have another excuse to indulge their passion: Cocoa may make people's brains work better.

Because cocoa is rich in flavanols--an antioxidant also found in red wine, green tea and blueberries--it increases blood flow to the brain and may improve the thought process, say researchers from the University of Nottingham, England.

They also suggest cocoa may be used to treat some forms of dementia and strokes.

The findings, announced in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science, add to earlier studies that found certain types of chocolate can lower blood pressure and perhaps prevent some forms of cardiovascular disease.

A year ago, for example, a study in the Netherlands found that older men who ate the equivalent of one-third of a chocolate bar every day had lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of death.

But it might be wise to keep the more recent findings in perspective. The research was partly funded by Mars Inc., the McLean, Va.-based candy maker that began marketing a line of "healthy" chocolate products last year under the CocoaVia brand.

Lead researcher Ian Macdonald also had two cautions: The cognitive skill boost lasted only two to three hours and the cocoa used in the test contained flavanol levels that he said are not available commercially.

Smart Room targets virtual health services

A scene reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's science fiction classic "The Martian Chronicles," in which the automated house of the future makes breakfast for its absent inhabitants, could be coming to a hospital near you.

The Smart Room, developed by Kansas City, Mo.-based Cerner Corp., will have a computer that connects patients virtually to their health care providers, an electronic medical record instead of an old-fashioned paper chart, and electronic creature comforts of home that include interactive TV, movies on demand and video games.

Smart Room will also have video/audio conferencing capabilities that will serve as the eyes and ears of doctors unable to visit patients in person.

Cerner's hospital room of the future, designed with its CareAware technology, will be showcased at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society 2007 conference in New Orleans this week.

"We feel this is a natural development in building the hospital of the future," said Bill Miller, Cerner vp, in a statement. "Cerner's CareAware device connectivity architecture allows for the automation of the health care system, ultimately delivering a greater level of patient safety, increased efficiency and patient experience."

Many features can be added to existing hospital rooms, so there is no need to build a new facility to support Smart Room technology, a Cerner spokesman said. He added, however, that some components are still in development and not yet available. Pricing for existing technology will be made available at the conference.

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Catch a flick, talk to the doc in drug promo

Consumer marketing for prescription drugs has reached the big screen.

Coming to a theater near you--for free and funded entirely by Centocor Inc., which is owned by healthcare product giant Johnson & Johnson--is the feature-length documentary "Innerstate." The film addresses everyday battles that come with so-called immune-mediated inflammatory diseases--lifelong ailments that can be treated with the Centocor-produced drug Remicade.

"Innerstate" chronicles the lives of a restaurant manager living with psoriasis, a NASCAR hopeful suffering with Crohn's disease and an aspiring country music singer living with rheumatoid arthritis.

This is not the first time a drug company has funded a film, but it is the first time a pharmaceutical maker has created its own documentary from the ground up, according to a spokesman for Horsham, Pa.-based Centocor.

Ironically, the film never mentions Remicade, he added.

"The intent is not to make this an advertisement or an infomercial," he said. "The goal was to educate the public and sufferers."

The spokesman said the 58-minute film will be shown in 14 major U.S. cities this spring. Following each screening, a panel of physicians will be present to answer questions.

Centocor is also offering free DVD copies of the film to anyone requesting one.

Shot backfires on deputy sheriff in comp case

The shooting of a deputy sheriff in McCracken County, Ky., may have been no more than an attempt at workers compensation fraud, according to local authorities.

According to the county Sheriff's Department, former deputy Benny Harding shot himself in the shoulder last October but falsely reported he had been shot by an unknown assailant.

He told investigators after the incident that an unidentified man shot him while he was investigating a suspicious parked car, according to published reports.

Mr. Harding later claimed the incident caused him anxiety. He was placed on disability and was paid $2,000 a month in workers compensation benefits.

But Mr. Harding's employer didn't think his story added up and the sheriff's office launched an internal investigation. That led to the indictment on several counts, including insurance fraud, filing a false police report, official misconduct and criminal mischief.

Mr. Harding--who has since been fired by the sheriff's department--pleaded not guilty to the charges.