Health information technology holds great promise for improved quality and safety for patients, as well as improved efficiencies in the health care system. Being able to harness technology and better share information has the potential to assist caregivers in making treatment decisions, improve care for patients and further engage patients in the care process. But realizing that promise isn't as easy as throwing a switch—it takes careful planning, coordination and significant staff education to provide the care and safety that patients depend upon.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently issued a regulation defining "meaningful use" of electronic health records that proposes overly ambitious requirements and ignores up-front costs, time and logistical challenges. As written, even hospitals at the cutting edge of IT adoption would have trouble meeting the all-or-nothing approach proposed. In fact, less than 1 percent of hospitals may be able to meet these requirements.

When it comes to the complex task of deploying health IT, hospitals need flexibility to meet the specific needs of their patients, communities and caregivers. They also need time to do it right. The American Hospital Association is urging CMS to make changes to spur, rather than inhibit, future innovation and to recognize the positive steps hospitals have already taken.

While hospitals were able to convince Congress to pass legislation to ensure that hospital-employed physicians who practice in our clinics and outpatient centers are eligible for funding, a number of other important issues remain. Specifically, the rule must be fixed to provide a reasonable, phased-in approach; provide flexibility in how hospitals achieve EHR adoption; make sure that all facilities within a hospital system are eligible for assistance; and include critical access hospitals in the Medicaid EHR incentive program.

A final rule is expected soon. Please contact your legislators and urge them to share hospitals' concerns with CMS and the administration. Safety is hospitals' top priority, and health IT is a valuable tool. We need the time and flexibility to get it right. For more information, click here.

Stephen Smart, D.D.S. (, is COG chair and chair of Medical Center of South Arkansas in El Dorado, Ark.