Link #123: A Doctor’s Bad Handwriting Can Kill You!

Medical appointment


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Link #123: A Doctor’s Bad Handwriting Can Kill You!

Medical appointment
Image credit: DarkoStojanovic/CC0 Public Domain Image.

In our last post, we explained how humans are the only primate species without pigmentation on the palms of their hands. In fact, the human hand is much more agile and useful than the hands of other primates. The reason for this evolutionary improvement is better use of tools and versatility of grip due to opposable thumbs.

Unfortunately, as critical as doctors can be in saving people’s lives, one area that they’re falling behind is in the use of a simple tool like the pen. For instance, did you know that the handwriting of some doctors can be bad enough to kill you?

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Can a Doctor’s Bad Handwriting Really Kill You?

Resperine prescription
Seen is the drug Reserpine in tablet form being counted out to fill a prescription in a pharmacy. Author: Linda Bartlett/CC0 Public Domain Image.

It is possible for a doctor’s bad handwriting to kill you. You’re most probably asking how this is possible. After all, regardless of how bad someone’s handwriting is, it still doesn’t have the power to kill someone. The way that bad handwriting can kill you is through a misunderstanding.

When you take a doctor’s prescription to a pharmacist or chemist, he is responsible for reading the prescription and giving you the right medicine. However, if the handwriting is bad, then the pharmacist may misread some drug name and give you the wrong medicine.

If the mistake is serious enough, you can die from the side effects of the medicine. At the very least, wrong medicines can cause injury, pain and suffering. In fact, the Institute of Medicine at the National Academies of Science in the United States says that every year there are 7,000 deaths in the country because of prescriptions being misread.

Additionally, they say that even when bad handwriting doesn’t cause deaths, it ends up causing injuries and illnesses. According their estimates, medication based mistakes end up hurting 1.5 million people in America every year.

Why Do Doctors Have Bad Handwriting?

Doctor at work. Public Domain Image.

It’s common for people to ridicule a doctor for having bad handwriting. Most people actually assume that a person will have bad handwriting if he or she is a doctor by profession. While all doctors don’t have bad handwriting, most do.

For most doctors, the reason for their bad handwriting is that they have to write a lot of prescriptions in a single day. The volume of prescriptions that doctors have to write not only tires them but also puts undue pressure on them to be quick about it.

What Is Being Done to Avert This Danger?

Generated electronic prescription and its message digest. Image credit: Meanmicio/CC BY-SA 4.0

In the United States, the only way for people to avoid getting the wrong medication because of bad doctor handwriting is to avoid the need for written prescriptions altogether. A collaboration of technology organisations and insurance companies in the US are giving away free electronic prescription software programs to doctors, clinics and hospitals.

These software programs are designed to help doctors generate electronic prescriptions which are easy to read because they’re printed and not written. This software program is also useful for finding out if a prescribed medication clashes with another prescribed earlier.

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