(NaturalNews) Medicare is launching a new incentive program that will pay a bonus to doctors who use electronic prescribing systems rather than traditional written prescriptions.
According to research from the Institute of Medicine, pharmacists in the United States make more than 150 million phone calls each year in order to clarify the contents of hard-to-read prescriptions, while a total of 1.5 million people are injured due to prescription errors.
"That's a lot of people needlessly hurt and a lot of time spent trying to sort out bad handwriting," said Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. "There are terrific human and financial costs to illegible prescriptions."
As of 2006, all pharmacies participating in the Medicare program must accept e-prescriptions. Now that the system is in place, Medicare wants to make sure that it is used.
"E-prescribing will help deliver safer or more efficient care to patients," Leavitt said.
Starting in 2009, doctors who use e-prescriptions will be reimbursed 2 percent more than doctors who use handwritten prescriptions. This bonus will fall to 1 percent in 2011 and 2012, and will fall to 0.5 percent in 2013. In 2014, Medicare will begin reimbursing doctors who do not e-prescribe at lower rates than those who do.
Doctors who can provide legitimate reasons for not using e-prescriptions will receive the regular reimbursements.
"We expect this will have a profound effect on the adoption and use of e-prescribing," Leavitt said.
Program advocates hope that the bonuses will help doctors who would like to shift to e-prescriptions but cannot afford the $3,000 per doctor startup costs, or the $80 to $400 a month for maintenance and operation.
"It is fairly costly for a small practice to begin to change over to e-prescribing," said James King, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "These incentives will help."