Wisconsin will soon launch an innovative health information exchange program.

Nearly half of skilled nursing facilities have registered to voluntarily submit electronic staffing data, officials with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid said Thursday during an SNF Open Door Forum call.

Facilities were strongly encouraged to submit electronic staffing data beginning in October 2015 as that voluntary period was “created specifically to help providers prepare” for the mandatory filing period, said Evan Shulman, deputy director of the Division of Nursing Homes at CMS, according to call attendees.

With the July 1 mandatory reporting kick-off quickly approaching, Shulman urged providers to begin submitting and testing their data as soon as possible. No penalties can be meted out for taking part in the voluntary period, which is just to ease providers into the new requirement, regulators have said.

“If your facility hasn’t registered, you are in the minority, “ Shulman said.

Shulman noted that providers can continue to submit data for the voluntary reporting period after the June 30 cutoff, and that “unlimited testing” of their staffing data submissions will be allowed “at any time, and as frequently as [providers] would like.”

The call also covered updates to the Payroll Based Journaling Policy Manual, including a provision that makes the submission of lab and radiology staff hours optional and not required to be submitted. The “large volume” of lab and radiology staff coming into facilities and the variety of activities complicated submission, Shulman told listeners.

“We recognize this can be complex,” Shulman said. “Providers can submit data. However, CMS will not require or utilize data for [lab and radiology] staff at this time.”

Shulman also clarified that hours for physical, occupational and speech therapists should only be counted for Medicare Part A and Part B residents, not outpatient therapy services provided to community-based individuals.

As to six new quality measures added to Nursing Home Compare this week, listeners were told that the addition of four new short-stay measures may actually help boost the ratings of facilities specializing in short-stay rehabilitation.

“I think what we’ve posted will help. We’ve expanded the number of short-stay measures from five to nine,” Ed Mortimore, technical director of survey and certification at CMS, said during the call’s Q&A segment. “We will begin reporting those in July and you’ll probably see an improvement.”

The new quality measures — save for one on residents who received an antianxiety or hypnotic medication — will be added to the Five-Star Quality Ratings system starting in July.