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Messy doctor handwriting may pose a danger to patients

It’s been a long-running joke that doctors have terrible handwriting. However, when it comes to accurate prescriptions, a doctor’s scrawl is no laughing matter. The health of thousands of patients each year, including residence of Providence, is threatened when a pharmacist is unable to decipher the hurried scribbles of a customer’s physician. A pharmacist’s failure to read a doctor’s handwriting properly can result in numerous medication error types, from a dosage mistake to the wrong drug entirely.

Just how serious is this problem? HealthDay reports that adverse drug reactions are one of the six top causes of death in the country. In part, drug errors fall into this category. An analysis of more than 9,000 prescriptions at the pharmacy of a large hospital revealed mistakes in one out of every eight prescriptions. The inability to read sloppy doctor handwriting accounted for some of these mistakes.

Patients may wonder why many doctors have a reputation for having terrible handwriting. A doctor’s busy workday is part of the problem – many physicians are in a hurry from one patient to the next, and writing out prescriptions can be seen as a tedious waste of time. Unfortunately, too much rush may lead to deadly mistakes. Many drugs, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, have similar-sounding names despite having very different uses. A pharmacist may misinterpret a hastily-written prescription for a different drug entirely, possibly leading to a delayed treatment or a fatal reaction. It is also possible for a pharmacist to misread the dosage on the prescription and give an adult dose to a child.

In an audit of doctor handwriting at a major hospital, assistants rated only 24 percent of the samples they viewed as “excellent” or “good.” It is understandable that doctors are busy; however, failing to take the time to ensure a prescription is written legibly may result in a malpractice lawsuit.

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Providence Personal Injury Office

199 North Main Street
Providence, RI 02903

Toll Free: 888-876-9415
Phone: 401-354-7233
Fax: 401-453-1501
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