Medical Malpractice Has Many Faces July 29, 2012.

Medical malpractice is more than wrong site surgery or misdiagnosis. It can be due to illegible handwriting on prescriptions.

Not too many people realize that medical malpractice does not just involve a misdiagnosis, wrong site surgery, misinterpreted x-rays or failure to diagnose. Medical malpractice can come in the extremely dangerous form of illegible handwriting on a prescription. It happens often, as the doctor hurriedly scrawls out something for your aches and pains, quickly ripping the top paper off the prescription pad. You can’t read what it says, but shrug your shoulders and figure the druggist will know all the jargon.

The problem is the pharmacist cannot always read the scrawl any more than you can, which leaves them in a position of guessing what the doctor meant. Yes, they should call the doctor to confirm, but many times that does not happen, as the doctor is too busy to call back, or the druggist thinks they know what is required. There are times they do know what is required, based on a patient’s history, but taking that chance can backfire. If the drug store is unable to interpret the scrawl, they may well end up handing out the right drug with the wrong dose or the wrong drug entirely.

Statistics show that drug related mistakes were to blame for just about one quarter of all preventable injuries to patients. Those same statistics reveal that just about 10 to 15 percent of prescriptions are in error. Fifteen percent is a large number when you stop to consider how many prescriptions are handed out across the nation on a daily basis. For example, in 2010 there were 4 billion prescriptions written for ten common drugs, ranging from hydrocodone to Norvasc and from Prilosec to Hydrochlorothiazide. If you do the math, 15 percent of 4 billion prescriptions being in error is a frightening thought.

While it may seem odd to think that a doctor or pharmacist could make an error when they are working with computers, many doctors still cling to the old fashion way of handwriting prescriptions out on their pads. Unfortunately, if they tend to be sloppy writers, those scripts may reflect the misuse or misspelling of a drug’s trade name, the wrong abbreviation for dosages and confusion over the timing of when to take the medication.

Interestingly enough, the U.S. and Canada are considered to be the least developed in terms of using e-medical records for various medical tasks, procedures, patient information and prescriptions. While many think that is related to the cost of running this kind of a specialized system, the reality is that many doctors are just plain sloppy and are fine with that.

The bottom line though is that mistakes made as a result of lousy handwriting, abbreviations that don’t look right and dose errors could be wiped out by inputting this information into a computer program, one that would make the physician double-check what they just ordered. Once in the system, the drug store would get a printout of the order in plain text, not a squint-worthy scrawl. There would be fewer errors made using this process and more lives saved.