Medical Errors Due to Poor Penmanship

Doctors have long been the butt of jokes when it comes to their sloppy handwriting, however, new research shows just how dangerous poor penmanship can be.

From the physician's fingertips to a pharmacy window, billions of prescriptions are written and filled every year in this country.

But if the pharmacist cannot read the doctor's handwriting, the patient could receive the wrong dosage, or even the wrong medication.

Take, for example, similarities between the names of two drugs: celebrex, a pain medication and celexa, an anti-depressant.

Moreover, simply putting a decimal point in the wrong place could increase the dosage 10 times the recommended amount.

"These kinds of mistakes happen all the time, especially because now that healthcare is becoming much more complex. Each patient is on multiple medications," said Dr. Ashish Atreja of the Cleveland Clinic.

According to a new study from the university of Minnesota, hospitals that have switched from handwritten prescriptions to a computerized system reduced the number of medication errors by as much as 66%

The majority of those errors, researchers say, were directly linked to illegible handwriting and transcription mistakes.

A recent nationwide sample of hospitals found that only about 9% of facilities have completely switched to a computerized prescription system.

"I think the benefit ultimately trickles down to the patient because they get better healthcare," said Atreja.

According to researchers, a system that takes the guesswork out of prescriptions ensures patients really do get what the doctor ordered.

One medical school in Indiana is taking matters into its own hands. In addition to teaching medical students how to use electronic records, the Indiana University School of Medicine also teaches penmanship in hopes of avoiding future errors.


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