Dangers of Bad Doctor Handwriting: Real or Imagined?

Posted By Regan Zambri Long, PLLC || 12-Jun-2017

“All doctors have bad handwriting.” Though obviously not true of all doctors, the stereotype of a doctor’s “chicken scratch” has been the subject of jokes for many decades. However, if a pharmacist can’t read the prescription, or if a colleague can’t read your doctor’s notes on your medical file, can it cause problems with your treatment? Is bad handwriting a genuine cause for concern?

Unfortunately, it is. Although many physicians now resolve the “chicken scratch” issue by documenting everything by computer, sometimes sloppy handwriting does cause communication issues leading to medical errors. Time even published an article claiming that sloppy handwriting accounts for up to 7,000 deaths per year!

How Can a Doctor’s Bad Handwriting Cause Harm?

  • Incorrect prescriptions. The Patient Safety Network says bad handwriting accounts for up to 21 percent of incorrect prescriptions, either under-prescribed or over-prescribed.
  • Misdiagnosis. When your records are passed from one medical professional to another, sloppy handwriting can lead to misinterpretation of a diagnosis or a complete misdiagnosis, leading to treatments for illnesses the patient doesn’t have, treatments that don’t work or even treatments that cause harm.
  • Inaccurate medical records. Misinterpreted handwriting can cause large gaps in your medical records, causing a doctor to assume you’ve received treatment you didn’t receive, or to reinstitute treatments or medications you don’t need.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

  • Ask to see your prescription and/or medical charts. Look at the doctor’s handwriting; if you can’t read it clearly, chances are other people won’t, either.
  • Demand that your medical records and prescription be typed or computerized. This step alone can resolve many handwriting miscommunications.
  • Double check your printed medical records. If your charts were originally handwritten before being input into the computer, you may still find some typos or errors. Make sure your written records and prescriptions match what you and your doctor have discussed.

To learn more about the most common medical mistakes that occur in hospitals, read our recent post on the subject.

If you believe you or a loved one has suffered harm due to a doctor’s sloppy handwriting or other medical errors, we can help. Call our Washington D.C. medical malpractice attorneys for more information.

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