Hey Doc, your handwriting is killing us.

16 01 2007


One of the most fascinating things to me is prescription. You know that piece of paper with scribbles all over it that your doctor gives to you after your visit? Well, it’s not just scribbles because it actually contains vital information with regards to your health. While I swear that I cannot read or understand it, I find it very amusing that pharmacists and other medical practitioners can read it easily. You go to any drugstore, hand your prescription and they will read it as if it’s clearly written. Soon enough, they’ll give you medicines that are suppose to make you well or healthy.

But are you sure that they read it right? What if they are dead wrong? Chances are, you will be dead too.

According to a July 2006 report from the National Academies of Science’s Institute of Medicine (IOM), doctors’ sloppy handwriting kills more than 7,000 people annually. Preventable medication mistakes also injure more than 1.5 million Americans annually. And:

Many such errors result from unclear abbreviations and dosage indications and illegible writing on some of the 3.2 billion prescriptions written in the U.S. every year.

Certainly, there is nothing fascinating or amusing about that fact. It is disturbing to know that your prescription can actually harm you more than your disease. Instead of treatment, some of these prescriptions, no thanks to our doc’s handwriting, can cause us injury or even death.

It forces me to ask whether or not the doctor is liable for any undesirable incidents cause by his prescriptions? Who’s responsible for these deaths, the doctor, the pharmacist or the patients?

The good news is that they are using technology to prevent more deaths.

To address the problem—and give the push for electronic medical records a shove—a coalition of health care companies and technology firms will launch a program Tuesday to enable all doctors in the U.S. to write electronic prescriptions for free. The National e-prescribing Patient Safety Initiative (NEPSI) will offer doctors access to eRx Now, a Web-based tool that physicians can use to write prescriptions electronically, check for potentially harmful drug interactions and ensure that pharmacies provide appropriate medications and dosages…

You can read the article here.




22 responses

16 01 2007
Barry Mahfood

You ask a very good question. My pharmacist always gives me what the doctor said I needed, but I really can’t see how he does it.

17 01 2007

You know what ? I’ve never think about it. OoOoOpPpP !!!!

17 01 2007
Sophisticated Writer

Well, I am a pharmacist (or used to as I don’t work in that field anymore) and when I worked at a drug store I was very careful with reading prescriptions. If I had just 1% doubt, I would ask for another opinion or just phone the doctor to make sure. I wish doctors had a normal handwriting. It sounds like we doctors and pharmacists have a code of of our own…

And yes, I’ve seen days when some of my mates read the prescriptions wrongfully. No one died, but it can be really bad.

Really interesting post 🙂

18 01 2007

Good for you.

I hope that I made you think about it.

Sophisticated Writer,
Seriously, do you have a code of your own? Are you taught to write and read those codes.:P Is there any particular subject called “doctor’s handwriting?”
I really admire you for being too careful when reading prescriptions.

19 01 2007

Great post! A blog I can relate to.

19 01 2007

At least in the UK prescription slips are standardised 😛

19 01 2007

Well, this is so true.

We had to have a Doc out to see my Mum in the middle of the night the other day and the notes he wrote up for the hospital couldn’t be read by the hospital staff once she was transferred so they had to repeat all his work again to be sure of what was going on.

Thankfully more and more Docs are moving into the 20th Century and getting PCs to do all their notes on and are sending prescriptions straight to your local pharmacy for you.

19 01 2007

That is VERY interesting. I’ve never thought of the possibility that someone could die because the doctor needs to take a handwriting class. That is definately a very interesting thought.

20 01 2007


What do you mean by “standardised?”

I’m sorry to hear that but I hope your mom is okey. Also, you’re lucky you’re living in a First World Country. Pc-to-pharmacy prescription is not going to happen here soon.

I’m surprised by the stats too. Now I’m really interested to know our own (Philippines) statistics related to this.

21 01 2007
Nick Payne

Computers aren’t always that great. My doctor’s computer system “lost” the fact that I am allergic to penicillin.

On a slightly more humorous note, you have merely hit the tip of the iceberg.

Doctors and pharmacists have a very interesting informal code too, you can see a whole list of them on this webpage:


Graveyard humour to say the least!

25 01 2007

I almost posted this on my blog. I already had it in my draft but I changed my mind. Hehe. Very interesting indeed! 🙂

25 01 2007

Ha.. couldnt agree more. I used to peep at wat the GP write when on my prescription form but i juz cant seem to figure out any sense.
Luckily for me in SG, the nurse in the clinic will take care of this.I can save a trip down to the pharmacies crying for help. Thou it nvr come to me how come the nurse can actually understand those undecipherable notes. =P

27 01 2007


I’ve read that your sick. Get well soon. Be careful with prescriptions.:)

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