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Old 03-18-2011, 10:21 AM
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Why do doctors have such horrible handwriting?


Simple enough question. It seems to be pretty universal, but why? Surely they don't take Illegible Chicken Scratches 101 in medical school.

And how are pharmacists so good at reading illegible scrips?
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Old 03-18-2011, 10:39 AM
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What I don't understand is why American doctors don't just print their scrips out. You'd think that doing everything on a computer would help their record keeping, too.
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Old 03-18-2011, 10:42 AM
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My WAG is that the amount of notetaking they do tends to ruin normal handwriting and it all turns into a scrawl. Either they're trying to keep up with what the patient is telling them, or trying to scribble down observations before they forget/so thy can move on to the next part of the exam, etc. I say this as someone who's seen her own handwriting get worse after years of taking patient histories and scribing for doctors during examinations.

There was one doctor I worked for who had very crisp and neat handwriting. The problem was, at least half the letters didn't appear to be in the Roman alphabet. The easiest example would be the little equilateral triangle that he'd write for 'A' or 'a.' Once you figured out his writing it was easy, but it was baffling if you weren't used to reading his notes.

I don't know how pharmacists do it. For me, it's a combination of working with doctors for a while and getting used to their individual handwriting, as well as familiarity with the medical terms and recognizing things based on context.

A lot of doctors use prescription pads that let you circle from a list of their most commonly-prescribed drugs, and others do electronic prescription requests. Others make a special effort to be neat on a prescription.
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Old 03-18-2011, 10:42 AM
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Originally Posted by Alessan View Post
What I don't understand is why American doctors don't just print their scrips out. You'd think that doing everything on a computer would help their record keeping, too.
My doctor doesn't print anything out, the prescription goes directly to my pharmacy of choice via computer.
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Old 03-18-2011, 10:46 AM
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And mine just sends it to my insurer's database, which means that any pharmacist in the country can scan the barcode on the scrip to confirm it.

Last edited by Alessan; 03-18-2011 at 10:46 AM.
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Old 03-18-2011, 10:56 AM
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Originally Posted by tdn View Post
Simple enough question. It seems to be pretty universal, but why? Surely they don't take Illegible Chicken Scratches 101 in medical school.

And how are pharmacists so good at reading illegible scrips?

I don't think that Doctors' handwriting is any more illegible than anyone else's handwriting. It's just that the words they write are unfamiliar to anyone without medical training.

You try writing down Emtricitabine, Famciclovir, Ganciclovir, Maraviroc, Oseltamivir, Tipranavir, Zalcitabine, Benperidol, Chlordiazepoxide, Guanfacine, Lorazepam, Methylphenidate, Pramipexole in your very best handwriting, and see if your friends can read it.
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Old 03-18-2011, 11:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tdn View Post
Simple enough question. It seems to be pretty universal, but why? Surely they don't take Illegible Chicken Scratches 101 in medical school.

And how are pharmacists so good at reading illegible scrips?
I worked in a pharmacy as a technician for five or six years, back in the dark ages before electronic scripts. I read and data-entered a godzillion scripts into the computer.

In my opinion, the writing is so bad because of a combination of things. The two major ones: 1. They're always writing. Charting, scripts, whatever, so they get lazy with the handwriting. 2. They're always in a hurry. That never helps.

How do pharmacists read it? Again, a combination of a couple of things. 1. As you work in a pharmacy, things come in over and over from the same doctors. You get used to reading it, and you recognize that messy scrawl as the way Dr. A writes "amoxicillin." 2. We're working with a different vocabulary. People in a pharmacy are familiar with medication names as well as the Latin abbreviations that doctors use, so it's easier for us to see. If you're looking a doctor's scrawl and expecting to see English, "erythromycin 250 ii QID x 14" won't make a great deal of sense. (I made that up, though it's possible. And the symbol after the 250 doesn't appear just right, but I can't figure out how to do that on a keyboard.)

And if you get one that you just can't read, you call the doctor and ask.

Last edited by StuffLikeThatThere; 03-18-2011 at 11:03 AM.
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Old 03-18-2011, 11:12 AM
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I clerked in a small pharmacy in high school.

When you read a 'scrip, there are typically a fair number of Latin abbreviations:

Q.I.D. = Four times per day

Being perhaps the most common.

The little pharmacy in a medical building where I worked in got probably 90% of the 'scrips written by the same 5-6 doctors, and probably 75% from just three of those. (The others were dentists who rarely wrote scrips) ..so the pharmacists learned to read those doctors hand writing. They would occasionally call a doctor for clarification, or if the dose didn't make sense, etc. Also if it was a narcotic scrip from an unfamiliar doc.
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Old 03-18-2011, 11:15 AM
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We write a LOT.

I can write (well, print, actually) quickly, legibly, and accurately. But not all 3 at once. Legibility gets sacrificed.

I'm thankful for voice recognition dictation systems.
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Old 03-18-2011, 11:21 AM
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I don't think that Doctors' handwriting is any more illegible than anyone else's handwriting.
I agree with this. I think there's confirmation bias in here somewhere.
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Old 03-18-2011, 11:26 AM
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I don't think that Doctors' handwriting is any more illegible than anyone else's handwriting. It's just that the words they write are unfamiliar to anyone without medical training.
I beg to differ. I'm looking at a piece of paper right now that was scribbled on by a surgeon.

Barn-rebbil
GBS-rehhit
Cratorsm
Abbolimmmnl Wilt Harrai
Michel plomia

I have some medical training, and a bunch of clues. I think these are

Band-????
GBP-????
Conversion
Abdominal Wall ????
Hiatal Hernia
  #12  
Old 03-18-2011, 11:48 AM
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My Dr. does print scrips...

My dad was a Dr., and his writing was scribbly...as was said, writing a lot and being in a hurry has a lot to do with it.

Myself, I once had a job where I had to sign hundreds of documents a day, and my signature devolved into a scribble. With the advent of personal computing and electronic payments, I really struggle remembering how to write cursive when I have to write a check for something.
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Old 03-18-2011, 12:17 PM
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Every Doc I've ever had, including dentists, have had terrible handwriting. On a couple of occasions I've had pharmacists have to call the doctor to confirm what the script was for because they couldn't read it. If the pharmacist can't read it (after reading Dr. handwriting all day) then it must really be badly written!
About 5 years ago I noticed all my Docs printing the scripts out from the computer. Problem solved.





One time I was reviewing the handwritten statement from an accident witness and I commented "this guy has the handwriting of a doctor". A Lieutenant (same a**hole that flipped his wig over the word "queer") starts yelling "My sister is a doctor and she has beautiful penmanship!!!" To which I said "why do I have a feeling if I would have said this guy has the handwriting of a left handed orangutan you would have said your sister was a left handed orangutan?" Which pissed him off beyond repair. Gawd I hated that guy. When I retired I told him if he showed up at my retirement party I would wrap my gold watch around his neck.
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Old 03-18-2011, 12:55 PM
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As is true with some others in this thread, I now go to a very modern medical practice where everything is computerized. Prescriptions are mostly sent electronically to pharmacies; there is no paper at all. On the rare occasions when a paper prescription is needed, it is printed out by the computer, so there is still no handwriting except maybe the physician's signature.

ETA: One of the great things about this system is that the practice includes every kind of specialist, and if you see one he can pull up your information on the computer and see your entire medical history, including everything that's been done to you by all the other doctors in the practice.

Last edited by suranyi; 03-18-2011 at 12:57 PM.
  #15  
Old 03-18-2011, 01:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Morris View Post
I don't think that Doctors' handwriting is any more illegible than anyone else's handwriting. It's just that the words they write are unfamiliar to anyone without medical training.
Au contraire. I am familiar with the jargon and I still am frequently boggled by the doctor scrawls in patient charts. Thank God for the electronic medical record. What we lose in privacy at least is compensated for by readability.

By the way, if you see an entry in a patient chart that's written in beautifully legible script, odds are that it was written by the dietician, chaplain or such. Nurses' handwriting seems mostly to be intermediate between that and the squibbles of MDs.

Naturally, I have gorgeously legible handwriting. Except when I'm in a hurry. Whaddaya mean, "what's that word?"
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Old 03-21-2011, 05:03 AM
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It's my personal assumption that doctors don't have handwriting that is particularly worse than anyone else. However, if you were to ask my mother about my own terrible handwriting, she'd gladly tell you that it's because smart people think so fast their hands can't keep up with their thoughts.
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Old 03-21-2011, 05:51 AM
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The UK prescription forms appear to be standardized and designed to be used with a certain printer and software. All the prescriptions I've had from English doctors are computer-printed and look exactly the same. The only thing handwritten is the signature. Ditto for the German and Hungarian prescriptions I've had. Here's a site showing what the UK (or maybe just English?) prescriptions look like.

The only handwritten prescription I've had in the last eight years was a veterinarian one for my ferret, and even then it was an anomaly -- normally the vet prints the prescriptions; perhaps that day the computers were down.

Last edited by psychonaut; 03-21-2011 at 05:53 AM.
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Old 03-21-2011, 05:56 AM
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Oh, and this page shows the German prescription form. I wholeheartedly agree with the blogger's rant on the inane lack of repeat prescriptions there.
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Old 03-21-2011, 07:29 AM
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Reminds me of an old joke:-

"Today a group of doctors staged a protest demonstration through the streets of London carrying placards they had written themselves. The only person who could read the placards was a pharmacist who told them to come back in ten minutes."
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