Doctors’ poor handwriting leads to medical errors

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Mar 01, 2012 in Doctor Errors

We've likely all left a doctor's office with a handwritten prescription and wondered what it said. Many doctors around the country and in West Virginia are notorious for having poor and nearly illegible handwriting. While poor penmanship is obviously not an indicator of a doctor's skill or competency, it can lead to increased instances of prescription and medical errors .

A recent study found that one in 13 patients is negatively impacted by a medical error, and drug-related errors make up roughly 25 percent of all patient injuries. These numbers are in addition to prescription errors that occur at pharmacies. While not as well documented, it's estimated that around 10 percent to 15 percent of prescriptions contain some type of error.

The bulk of these medical errors are related to illegible handwriting and use of non-standard abbreviations. In an effort to cut down on medical and prescription errors, more hospitals and clinics in West Virginia are using computers and special prescription software. These software programs force doctors to type in not only the medication's name, but also the specific dosage directions using standard language that is easily discernable.

Aside from cutting down on potential prescription errors, another benefit to using computers and prescription software is that doctors can access pharmacy records to know what other medications a patient is currently taking. They are also able to monitor if and when patients are refilling medications. With the average elderly patient filling nearly 40 prescriptions each year, prescription databases also help cut down on medical errors by flagging potential harmful drug interactions.

When medical or prescription errors do occur, the potential for permanent injury or even death is great. It's critical that doctors remain vigilant and informed of what medications their patients are currently taking, possible side effects and drug interactions.

Doctors practicing at hospitals and clinics that use computers and prescription software, still bear the ultimate responsibility to ensure patients are receiving the correct medication and dosage. Failure to do so may result in medical errors and lead to medical negligence lawsuits.

Source: Financial Post, "When pills kill," Rebecca Walberg, Feb. 28, 2012

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