Expecting a doctor to have terrible handwriting is often treated like a joke. However, there are very real-world consequences of physicians with illegible handwriting. Poor handwriting can be misread by other doctors, physicians, and healthcare workers. Confusion can cause delays in treatment and mistakes can cause fatal errors.
Fatal Mistakes and Bad Handwriting
According to a report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), 1.5 million injuries occur each year because pharmacists and healthcare workers misread sloppy handwriting. These handwriting errors involving prescription medications kill up to 7,000 Americans each year. Even though electronic prescription systems are readily available, many doctors still use paper and pen to write prescriptions.
In a 2005 study, three surgeons in the U.K. randomly selected operative notes from an orthopedic ward. Nurses, physiotherapists, and medical officers were asked to rate the legibility of the notes. Only a quarter of the notes were rated as good or excellent and 37% were categorized as poor.
Is it Time to End Handwritten Prescriptions?
The Institute for Same Medication Practices has called for an end to handwritten prescriptions. An ISMP white paper argues that electronic prescribing, with proper system design, implementation, and maintenance can contribute to the prevention of medication errors. “Put simply, handwritten prescriptions ought to be a thing of the past. Healthcare practitioners and providers across the nation should rapidly and aggressively take advantage of the electronic prescribing technology that can help prevent medication errors today.”
Bad Handwriting and Medication Errors
If a pharmacist or nurse cannot read a prescription, they may need to get confirmation from the doctor about what the prescription was supposed to mean. However, misreading notes can be more problematic in filling a prescription, which could lead to the wrong medication, wrong dose, or wrong route.
The medical industry has also been trying to phase out the use of abbreviations but some doctors still use confusing abbreviations in prescriptions. For example, “q.i.d.” is an abbreviation for a Latin phrase meaning to take the medication 4 times a day. However, “q.d.” is used for once per day and “b.i.d.” for twice per day. It is easy to see how these terms can be misread and confused, which can cause a big difference in patient dosage.
Bad Handwriting and Delayed Treatment
Confusion over medical records and hospital notes can also take extra time to decipher. A doctor who cannot read a prescription or order may have to wait until they can contact the person who wrote the order to get a clear answer. These kinds of delays can be dangerous, especially in an emergency medical situation. In some cases, the doctor who wrote the note may not even be able to read their own handwriting.
Prescription errors are common, even with the wide availability of electronic systems that avoid the need for handwritten prescriptions. If you suffered an injury because of a prescription error, speak with a medical malpractice attorney. Fill out an online case evaluation form or call (800) 529-6162 today to talk to our team.