Last Updated: 2000-12-18 19:33:38 EST (Reuters Health)
By Richard Woodman
LONDON (Reuters Health) - The General Medical Council (GMC) is warning doctors that bad handwriting and failure to help members of the public in an emergency are no longer acceptable.
Although illegible handwriting within the profession is legendary, the latest edition of the GMC’s Good Medical Practice booklet, which lays down the standards expected of doctors, says records must be “clear, accurate, legible (our emphasis) and contemporaneous.”
I woner what prompted that warning? They did not mention any particular event.
I saw an episode of ER where they gave someone a wrong medicine that they were allergic to because the doctor who wrote out the prescription wrote it badly, and didn’t check what was given. She got reamed out pretty badly, and told to improve her handwriting before she could write any more prescriptions.
Now I know that ER is not a place to learn medical facts, but it gives an idea of what they are probably afraid of happening.
The most well-known real case was when a doctor in Texas wrote a prescription for Isordil (for angina), but the pharmacist dispensed Pendril (for high blood pressure) instead. The patient died of a heart attack and the doctor and pharmacy were held equally liable for the error and had to pay a $450,000 judgement.
I don’t think a single incident prompted the warning, but a culmination of events. Medical professional error is one of the leading causes of unexpected deaths in US hospitals. Poor handwriting is one of the contributing factors. A quick search of Medline turned up this article entitled “8 Ways to Prevent Malpractice When Writing Prescritions”. The number one suggestion - write legibly:
It shouldn’t take much searching to find many examples of poor handwriting on prescriptions or charts causing illness or death. I think the GMC (and the American Medical Association) are trying to show “self-regulation” before the government decides to get involved.
A woman took her infant in to the doctor because it seemed to be pained. Sure enough, the child had an infection in his right ear. The doctor wrote a prescription. The instructions read “Put 4 drops in R. ear every 12 hours”, with the “R.” circled.
Days later, the woman brought the child back. He was still having pains. The doctor asked if she’d used the medicine. She had, she said. He was due for another dose, so the doctor asked her to give the child some. She started to undo his diaper. The doctor asked what she was doing. She said she was following directions, so she handed him the bottle. It read “Put 4 drops in rear every 12 hours.” :D:D