The problem of doctors' poor handwriting leading to indecipherable prescriptions has been around for years. If anything, the problem is getting worse, as penmanship declines everywhere in society in this digital age.
Prescription errors associated with sloppy writing lead to many unnecessary injuries and deaths. Even in an increasingly digital age, they remain a common form of medical malpractice.
Research studies are showing, however, that doctors and hospitals can reduce errors by implementing electronic prescriptions. Studies have shown, for example, that the chances of getting the prescription right increase if the doctor is able to chose the medication from a menu of options on a computer screen - and then transmit the choice electronically to a pharmacy.
But only a little more than one third of all prescriptions nationally are delivered electronically. In 2011, the rate was 36 percent, according to an e-prescription provider called Surescripts.
The cost of failing to fill prescriptions properly is huge. The Institute of Medicine estimates that the cost of adverse events caused by prescription errors is $2 billion a year.
Some hospitals are doctors are resistant to implement online prescriptions, however, because it would require them to adapt their workflow. If doctors are not jotting down prescriptions on the fly, someone else may have to enter the data.
Obviously, when so much at stake, the need to do more data entry should not be used as an excuse for failure to implement a safer way of delivering prescriptions to patients.
Even in hospitals that do convert to the capability for electronic prescriptions, some medical providers still dispense prescriptions the old-fashioned way. That way is generally a more dangerous way and is hardly the stuff of nostalgia.
To be sure, sometimes the old ways are best. But not with paper prescriptions.
Source: "Chicken Scratches vs. Electronic Prescriptions," Randall Stross, New York Times, 4-28-12