HHS hopes loosening of Stark law will spur health IT adoption

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After much anticipation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued new rules to bolster adoption of e-prescription tools and EMR (electronic medical records) by physicians and healthcare organizations. The new rules were introduced yesterday by HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt. 

The new regulatory proposal would create exceptions to the 'physician self-referral' law (also known as the Stark law). To avoid kickbacks, the rule prevents physicians participating in Medicare to refer patients for certain health services to hospitals which the physician is financially connected. The new rules, however, would exclude technology buys from the rule to make IT adoption easier.

Moreover, the exemptions would allow doctors to gain access to hospital computer systems - such as hardware, software and training - through rental or some other method, which would help alleviate cost barriers associated with EMR adoption.

Separately, the Office of Inspector General has announced proposed safe harbors for the donation of technology for e-prescribing and electronic health records. Technology that meets the requirements of the safe harbors would be exempt from enforcement action under the Federal anti-kickback statute.