AP Medical Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) —Dropping a paper prescription at the drugstore is becoming old-school: More than a third of the nation's prescriptions now are electronic, according to the latest count.

The government has been pushing doctors to e-prescribe, in part because it can be safer for patients. This year, holdouts will start to see cuts in their Medicare payments.

A report from Surescripts, the largest network for paperless prescribing, shows more doctors are signing up fast.

At the end of 2011, 36 percent of all prescriptions were electronic — the doctor wrote it by computer and sent it directly to the pharmacy with the push of a button, the report found. That's up from 22 percent of prescriptions that were paperless a year earlier.

For patients, that means shorter drugstore waits. Pharmacists like not having to squint at the doctors' messy handwriting. And computerized ordering systems allow doctors to easily check that a new drug won't interact badly with one the patient's already taking.

The research uncovered another benefit: More patients pick up a new prescription when it's filed electronically.

The main reasons:

Drugstores receive every paperless prescription, and they can call patients to come in and pick up their waiting medicine. Also,

e-prescribing programs automatically show the doctor which brands are covered by the patient's insurance with the lowest out-of-pocket cost.

Even if your doctor is a big e-prescriber, you might still walk out with a few paper prescriptions. That's because there are additional steps that doctors and pharmacies must take for electronic prescriptions of controlled substances, such as certain painkillers, and the rules vary by state.

For several years, the government has run incentive programs to encourage doctors to adopt e-prescribing and other computerized health records, offering payments to help defray the costs of adopting the systems. Now Medicare is beginning to cut some reimbursements to certain doctors who don't e-prescribe at least a little.