Monday, January 15, 2007

Doctors' Handwriting Kills Thousands

It's true. According to a report at, seven thousand people die each year due to "doctors sloppy handwriting." You know what they're talking about; it's the illegible scribbling on prescription slips that's supposed to connect needy people with the right type and dosage of medications. Unfortunately, out of the 3.2 billion prescriptions written every year, 1.5 million end up harming people; and of that, seven thousand are killed.

These troubling numbers come as a group called the National e-prescribing Patient Safety Initiative (NEPSI) pushes to get doctors to scrap the pads and pick up digital prescription-writing solutions. The group includes partners like Dell, Google and Aetna.


KateGladstone said...

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 -

pound360 said...

Thanks for the feedback Kate. It gives another dimension to this story that I (or this blog's readers) probably couldn't have pulled out of the media... and that's really what (this type of)blogging is all about!

Good luck with your work. Hopefully, you and others in your field, can drive (life saving)change.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.