Updated 15 October 2015

Why is doctors' handwriting so bad?

We’ve all noticed that doctors’ handwriting can be extremely bad. In this article we explore the reasons why.

We’ve all noticed that doctors’ handwriting can be extremely bad, but according to, their bad writing is “a matter of survival”.

A problem for doctors is the volume of paperwork that needs to be completed for each patient encounter. It is a legal requirement that everything that is done, found, or instructed has to be documented prior to a patient being discharged.

Read: World high on prescriptions

Doctors know perfectly well that theses paper trails end in filing cabinets, never to be seen again, and that paperwork interferes with what’s really important – seeing and treating patients.

Doctors also realise that what they write is intended to be seen solely by themselves and their peers, and not the public.

Their handwriting is mostly decipherable among themselves because they know what to look for, which proves that doctors’ handwriting is made and not born. (How could anyone get through university writing so illegibly?)

The consequences

According to the website Faculty of Medicine for Doctors and Medical Students, doctors' sloppy handwriting kills thousands of patients every year.

“It could be that the doctor is focusing on the diagnosis and medication more than on writing the prescription,” argues Keya Shivadey, specialist Gynaecologist and Obstetrician at Aster Medical Centre in Dubai.

Read: Over-the-counter and prescription drugs

As patients, we have all been puzzled by what doctors have scribbled on prescriptions. Hardly a word can be recognised, often not even a single letter.

However, the resulting medication will find its way into our bodies, and we trust in the ability of pharmacists to decipher what the doctors have written. This could be one of the toughest jobs on the planet.

Enter E-Prescribing...

Addressing the problem of bad handwriting – and advancing the case for electronic medical records – describes E-Prescribing as "a prescriber's ability to electronically send an accurate, error-free and understandable prescription directly to a pharmacy from the point-of-care".

In July 2006, the American Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported on the role that E-Prescribing could play to lessen medication errors, and it received widespread publicity, helping to build awareness of its role in improving patient safety.

Read: Prescription pain med addiction under spotlight

The widespread use of E-Prescribing would help to improve the quality of patient care by decreasing the unacceptable number of deaths each year due to sloppy handwriting.

Looking for a doctor? Try Healthfinder, the best way to find the medical professionals you need.

Read More:

More and more Americans taking prescription drugs

Prescription stimulant abuse common in young adults

FDA warns doctors against fake medications

Image: Doctor in a labcoat writing out prescription from Shutterstock


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