Administration pushes toward electronic medical records

Article first posted on – April 8, 2013

The Obama administration is moving to ease the national transition from paper to electronic health records through a pair of proposed rules to be published this week.

The rules, to hit Tuesday’s Federal Register, would update and extend existing regulations surrounding the sharing of patient electronic records.

Federal law generally prohibits hospitals from giving medical record software to doctors who would then use it to refer patients back to the facility for treatment. Violations can be charged as felonies and are punishable by prison time and fined up to $25,000.

This “anti-kickback“ provision, along with similar measures designed to keep doctors from referring patients to hospitals in which they have a financial stake, are seen by some as counterproductive in the push toward expensive electronic systems. In response, the federal government has repeatedly implemented safe harbor rules, allowing for certain arrangements that “do not pose a risk of program or patient abuse,” according to a notice describing one of the new proposals.

The two rules – one put forth by the Department of Heath and Human Services’ inspector general and the other crafted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services – seek to expand the safe harbor exceptions, and extend their sunset dates.

“We expect these proposed changes to continue to facilitate the adoption of electronic health records technology,” the HHS Inspector General’s proposal says. 

Beginning Tuesday, interested parties and members of the public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed rules.