HHS updating regulations to fit new tech

Smoothing the way for telemedicine, looking for alternatives to bar codes

The Health and Human Services Department is updating regulations to deal with new technologies such as telemedicine and working to better align similar rules under a regulatory review plan, officials said.

HHS officials have published the department’s Plan for Retrospective Review of Existing Rules on the HHS website.

The plan came about in response to President Barack Obama’s executive order mandating that agencies undergo such reviews to improve efficiency. HHS and other agencies submitted preliminary plans in May that became final in late August.

In HHS’ case, officials said their strategy was to account for new technologies, promote electronic reporting and better align existing rules.


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The changes include loosening rules on telemedicine, aligning stimulus law reporting requirements for electronic health records with previous orders, and reducing conflicts between Medicaid and Medicare rules.

For example, in the past hospitals had to individually credential each doctor providing telemedicine service from a remote location. Now Medicare will permit telemedicine with a provider credentialed at a distant hospital as long as the distant facility participates in Medicare and there is a written telemedicine agreement in place between the hospitals.

“This change will improve the ability of rural and critical access hospitals to provide a broader spectrum of care and services to their patients and…reduce provider burden,” the HHS plan states. The department estimated about $14 million in net savings from the change.

Another project is aligning the reporting requirements under the stimulus law's EHR incentive program. The stimulus law program has requirements for electronic prescribing that need to be aligned with other HHS electronic prescribing requirements, the plan states.

“This initiative should reduce confusion in the physician community and reduce the reporting and paperwork burdens throughout the industry,” the plan states.

Also up for review is the Food and Drug Administration’s 8-year-old requirement that drugs be labeled with bar codes.
The goal of the bar code rule was to reduce medical errors related to giving people the wrong drugs or the wrong doses, resulting in $93 billion in projected savings to the health care system. The FDA intends to review whether the savings have materialized and whether there are alternative technologies that would be more effective, the plan states.

Two HHS agencies, the FDA and the Agency for Children and Families, are working on revising rules to increase use of electronic information and reduce paperwork. That include such things as electronic submission of clinical data for drug trials, registration of drugs and medical devices and electronic package inserts for medicines. The agency is looking to put more of its child support program into electronic formats, including electronic signatures.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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