The Justice Department, responding to complaints of harassment from hospitals, has issued new guidelines limiting how federal prosecutors can pursue alleged Medicare fraud.

The revisions followed complaints from hospitals and lawmakers that overzealous prosecutors were going after innocent billing mistakes through the False Claims Act, which allows triple damages and fines of up to $10,000 for defrauding or seeking to defraud the government.Under the new guidelines, prosecutors will have to first determine that hospitals knowingly submitted fraudulent claims before invoking the False Claims Act. Justice Department officials said this should have been the practice all along, and the new guidelines simply clarify the steps that prosecutors should follow in looking for Medicare fraud.