Monday, December 11, 2006

Up to 25% medication errors related to illegible dr handwriting

A CNN health article from a while back says:

Experts say up to 25 percent of medication errors may be related to illegible handwriting: A pharmacist misreads an illegible prescription, one drug is mixed up with another. [...]

Also last year the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, reported that medical mistakes overall -- including those stemming from unreadable notes from doctors -- may cause up to 98,000 deaths a year in the United States. Other researchers later termed those numbers exaggerated, but the authors stood by their report.
The article mentions handwriting seminars being given to doctors, and says the following
"It's good they're doing a seminar, but I'm surprised they're not going with automated bedside and hand-held computers, which cut the errors by up to 50 percent," Inlander said. Such devices require doctors and others to type orders into a computer system.


  1. Not sure about bedside, but at appointments doctors have been using printed scripts for a while now. It's good in that the handwriting issues go away, but bad in that there are often multiple choices for the one drug and it's easy to select the wrong quantity/type.

  2. Among the hospitals that call me in to prevent medication errors (by giving handwriting classes to the doctors), a fairly high percentage claim to have “computerized everything” 1 or 2 or 5 or more years ago … yet they still have handwriting problems, because of a crucial 1% to 5% of handwritten documentation that just won’t go away.

    Doctors in “totally computerized” hospitals still scribble Post-Its to slap onto the walls of the nurse’s station, still scrawl notes on the cuffs of their scrubs during impromptu elevator/corridor conferences with colleagues … and, most of all, doctors with computer systems often have the ward clerks operate the computers, use the Net, or whatever: working, of course, from the doctors’ illegible handwriting. Bad doctor handwriting, incorrectly deciphered by ward clerks using the computer for any purpose, thereby enters the computerized medical record.

    And what happens when disasters like Hurricane Katrina (or tsunamis) knock out a hospital’s network? More than one hospital, during Katrina, lost its generator, its electric power — and therefore its computer system — for the duration. Even the computer-savviest staff in these disaster zones had to return to handwriting. Let's hope they wrote legibly.

    Kate Gladstone - Handwriting Repair -