Doctor Writing

Written by Patricia Tunstall
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Doctors' handwriting has long been a running joke. The illegible scrawl that is undecipherable to the patient is, unfortunately, all too often undecipherable to the pharmacist. This is the professional, after all, who must fill the prescription with the correct medicine, and label it with the correct dosage. If this person misreads the prescription, adverse drug events (ADE) will surely follow. Some will be fatal.

Scarily enough, pharmacists frequently believe they have accurately read the prescription, but are wrong. A physician, for example, might prescribe Avandia for diabetes, but the pharmacist reads the handwriting on the prescription as Coumadin, a blood thinner. The physician's script was not carefully printed, but was written in such a way that each letter could be easily read as another letter. Believing that the drug's name was accurately read, the pharmacist did not call the physician to check.

ePrescribing Solves Problems with Handwriting

Doctors' hurried scribbles can lead not only to the wrong medication, but the wrong dosage. If letters are not carefully separated, dispensers may not be able to tell if a zero has a decimal in front of it or not. In this case, the dosage for a particular drug may be off by tenfold--a potentially lethal error.

Efforts have been implemented by the medical profession to curb errors attributable to poor handwriting, but most prescribers still write prescriptions by hand. Electronic systems are gaining popularity, but the archaic paper system for prescription writing is entrenched for various reasons. With increased education about ePrescribing among healthcare providers, effective systems are being put into place that eliminate the deadly effect of doctors' handwriting in medical errors.

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