Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret M. Heckler yesterday postponed a controversial regulation tightening up on physician fees, but proposed a rule requiring manufacturers of medical devices to notify her department of deaths associated with their products.

The physician fee regulation was proposed on March 2 and was to have gone into effect automatically next Tuesday. It was based on Medicare provisions in tax legislation passed last year.

The regulation would have imposed limits on reimbursements to hospital-based physicians supplying services under Medicare, mainly pathologists, radiologists and anesthesiologists, who, according to critics, often have received excessive fees for their services.

The regulation had been sharply criticized by some doctor groups, and yesterday Heckler signed an order postponing its effective date until Oct. 1, sources said. The reason given was that it would be desirable to have the regulation take effect at the same time as the new system of prospective payments for hospitals serving Medicare patients.

The proposed regulation on medical devices would require manufacturers and importers of products such as pacemakers and X-ray machines to notify HHS of any deaths or injuries connected with their products. Heckler called this a "necessary alarm system" to flag possible dangers to health.

On May 18, a House subcommittee issued a report suggesting that HHS's Food and Drug Administration might have violated a 1976 law by failing to install such a reporting system. FDA did propose one in 1980, but withdrew it following manufacturers' protests.