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Is a doctor’s bad handwriting really that serious?

Some doctors are known for their bad handwriting. When it comes to prescriptions or doctors’ notes, illegible handwriting can be life-threatening.

When patients in New York are handed a prescription by their doctor, they should be able to trust that the medication is safe for them to use and effectively treats their condition. Unfortunately, pharmacist or doctor errors can result in serious mistakes regarding medications.

Each year, according to Health Care IT News, about 400,000 people die from medical mistakes. The previous estimate in 1999 of 100,000 deaths was much lower, although still unacceptable. A medical professional at Johns Hopkins University said this is comparable to two large passenger airplanes crashing on a daily basis - a scenario that would surely cause public outrage in a short amount of time.

Handwriting can result in medication mistakes

Prescription drug mistakes are one of the most common types of medical errors that may be avoided. People have joked for a long time about the illegible handwriting that seems to be shared among most doctors. However, when it comes to filling out easily readable prescriptions, a doctor's handwriting is no laughing matter. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a study analyzing numerous prescriptions written at a major medical center revealed that 15 percent of the prescriptions were unable to be deciphered. Additional findings during the study included the following:

• Medical staff who randomly reviewed handwritten operative notes rated just 24 percent of the writing examples as "good" or "excellent."

• The handwriting in 35 percent of the samples was rated "poor."

• In some cases, those trying to decipher a prescription needed the help of another colleague or had to call the doctor who had written the note.

Unreadable doctors' handwriting is more than just a nuisance when it comes to patient care - it can mean the difference between life and death. One patient died after his pharmacist misread the prescription and gave him the wrong medication. When pharmacists or other medical professionals are unable to read a doctor's orders, vital treatment may be delayed or unnecessary tests may be given. Patients may receive the correct medication, but be instructed to take the wrong dosage amount.

Possible solutions

It is understandable that doctors are often in a hurry. However, taking a few extra seconds to make sure handwriting is legible on prescriptions or hospital instructions can prevent life-threatening mistakes, as well as save doctors valuable time if others don't have to ask them to clarify their writing. It may also help to switch to electronic or computer printed prescriptions.

You may be entitled to compensation if a medical error harmed you. An experienced Kew Gardens medical malpractice attorney should be able to advise you of your options.

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