Doctors, hospitals score win on records deadline

Federal health officials are proposing to delay a deadline for the adoption of electronic health records (EHR) in a major victory for doctors and hospitals.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) outlined several ways it will slow down the "Meaningful Use" EHR program in a proposed rule released Tuesday.

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The most notable change would mean that healthcare providers can use EHR software that was previously disqualified and still receive incentive payments this year.

If finalized, the shift would prevent penalties from hitting doctors and hospitals that fail to move into stage 2 of "Meaningful Use" on time, even if they do not apply for a special exception.

The regulation would also extend stage 2 through 2016, a move that federal health officials had already promised to make.

Obama administration officials said the changes were designed to ease pressure on healthcare providers and maintain momentum in the EHR program.

Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for health information technology, noted that smaller providers and rural hospitals have struggled to adopt the 2014 software.

"The steps we are taking today will give new options to those who, through no fault of their own, have been unable to get the new 2014 Edition technology," she said.

"Meaningful Use" is the government's most comprehensive attempt to encourage the adoption of health information technology by providers.

Passed in 2009, the program officially began in 2011 by rewarding doctors and hospitals that moved away from paper records.

It has already experienced a series of delays, and after only four hospitals attested to stage 2 by mid-May, outside experts predicted that the CMS would prolong the process again. 

Senate Republicans also pushed the agency to grant providers additional time to comply. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) cheered the decision in a statement late Tuesday.

"I am pleased the administration has finally listened and I look forward to working with CMS and stakeholders to ensure that transitions to electronic health records are done effectively and efficiently," Thune said.

—This post was updated Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. with Thune's statement.