Why is doctors' handwriting so bad?

accreditation
Illegible doctor's prescription - Google Free Image
Illegible doctor's prescription - Google Free Image

We’ve all noticed that doctors’ handwriting can be extremely bad, but according to doctorsecrets.com, their bad writing is “a matter of survival”.

A problem for doctors is the volume of paperwork that needs to be completed for each patient encounter. It is a legal requirement that everything that is done, found, or instructed has to be documented prior to a patient being discharged.

Read: World high on prescriptions

Doctors know perfectly well that theses paper trails end in filing cabinets, never to be seen again, and that paperwork interferes with what’s really important – seeing and treating patients.

Doctors also realise that what they write is intended to be seen solely by themselves and their peers, and not the public.

Their handwriting is mostly decipherable among themselves because they know what to look for, which proves that doctors’ handwriting is made and not born. (How could anyone get through university writing so illegibly?)

The consequences

According to the website Faculty of Medicine for Doctors and Medical Students, doctors' sloppy handwriting kills thousands of patients every year.

“It could be that the doctor is focusing on the diagnosis and medication more than on writing the prescription,” argues Keya Shivadey, specialist Gynaecologist and Obstetrician at Aster Medical Centre in Dubai.

Read: Over-the-counter and prescription drugs

As patients, we have all been puzzled by what doctors have scribbled on prescriptions. Hardly a word can be recognised, often not even a single letter.

However, the resulting medication will find its way into our bodies, and we trust in the ability of pharmacists to decipher what the doctors have written. This could be one of the toughest jobs on the planet.

Enter E-Prescribing...

Addressing the problem of bad handwriting – and advancing the case for electronic medical records –  cms.gov describes E-Prescribing as "a prescriber's ability to electronically send an accurate, error-free and understandable prescription directly to a pharmacy from the point-of-care".

In July 2006, the American Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported on the role that E-Prescribing could play to lessen medication errors, and it received widespread publicity, helping to build awareness of its role in improving patient safety.

Read: Prescription pain med addiction under spotlight

The widespread use of E-Prescribing would help to improve the quality of patient care by decreasing the unacceptable number of deaths each year due to sloppy handwriting.

Looking for a doctor? Try Healthfinder, the best way to find the medical professionals you need.

Read More:

More and more Americans taking prescription drugs

Prescription stimulant abuse common in young adults

FDA warns doctors against fake medications

Image: Doctor in a labcoat writing out prescription from Shutterstock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Eskom has considered continuous load shedding at Stage 2, instead of introducing it when the power system faces a crunch. What are your thoughts?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
I'm all for it - we're going to have power cuts regardless, so we might as well have some stability to better plan our lives
45% - 4228 votes
No thanks! I prefer having periods of no load shedding and we cannot normalise this crisis
55% - 5099 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
17.93
-1.8%
Rand - Pound
19.45
-0.0%
Rand - Euro
17.37
-0.0%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.70
-0.0%
Rand - Yen
0.13
-0.0%
Gold
1,643.66
0.0%
Silver
18.87
0.0%
Palladium
2,073.00
0.0%
Platinum
858.50
0.0%
Brent-ruolie
86.15
-5.0%
Top 40
57,110
-3.1%
All Share
63,417
-2.9%
Resource 10
56,319
-7.5%
Industrial 25
78,436
-1.2%
Financial 15
14,142
-1.6%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE