Can you read your family physicians’ handwritten prescription? Probably, not. Prescriptions, when handwritten are notorious for often being illegible, difficult to decipher. According to a study 80 percent of medical errors were attributed to illegible handwriting of physicians. Chances of error are more when two medicines are of similar-sounding names like Adderall( a stimulant drug) and Inderall( A blood pressure drug).
In the US medical practitioners’ sloppy handwriting kills more than 7000 people annually according to a report from the National Academics of Science, Institute of Medicine. So far no survey has been conducted in India, but the figure of causalities in India will be substantially higher as people blindly believe in the ingenuity of chemists who are considered to be skilled in reading illegible hand notes of the doctors.
A Texas jury has attributed the death of a 42 year old patient to an illegible prescription and has ordered Dr Ramachadra Kolluru, the cardiologist who wrote the prescription to pay $225000 compensation to the patient’s family.
Why physicians are so careless with their handwriting when their badly written scripts may increase the possibility of errors that land patients in hospitals or even the grave? Graphologists (handwriting analysts) have their own interpretation of illegible handwriting. They say writing becomes illegible when thoughts run faster in the mind of the writer than the movement of his hand that coordinates to produce writing. A mature person who normally writes illegibly doesn’t care about usual norms of the society; he can be very talented but not conformist. Creative people in any field such as art, music, theatre, literature generally have partially or totally illegible handwriting. A legible handwriting on the contrary speaks about writer’s willingness to communicate, be transparent and follow social norms. He too can be creative in his field but his thought pattern will be different. His life will flow like canal water within boundaries, whereas a person executing free flowing almost illegible handwriting will live life like river water- free flowing, not constrained by any boundaries, lives life on his own terms. A hurriedly written script will also tend to be illegible.
Poor penmanship of physicians has also been butt of jokes. A joke was in circulation about a chemist who started picking up medicines on reading a personal letter of a customer who had brought it to him thinking that the chemists are capable of reading illegible writings.
Considering the importance of medical prescriptions, some private hospitals have introduced printed prescriptions, but the need is of total elimination of hand written prescriptions to avoid any confusion.
Till the time you get printed prescription from your physician, a few steps worth taking:
• Try to read prescription yourself before leaving doctor’s clinic. If the medicine and dose is not clearly readable, ask the doctor to rewrite the prescription.
• Ask the doctor to tell you verbally the name of medicine and dosage and compare that with what you can read on the prescription note.
• Ask the chemist to read aloud the name of medicine before picking up.
• Read the name of the medicine to match with the prescription.
It may be time consuming but worth taking trouble.