When Doctors Type

When Doctors Type

My 14-year-old son was at the lab last week to get some blood tests, and the techs there could not quite make out the doctor’s handwriting on the form (even though my son’s wonderful doctor has handwriting that is better than mine!). Rather than guessing, the lab team called to clarify the orders. Everything turned out fine. But sometimes handwritten orders lead to errors.

A team of researchers compared handwritten prescriptions to physician-entered computerized prescriptions in a children’s hospital. The computerized option not only provided legible prescriptions, but could also identify potential drug interactions or dosages outside of the expected range for a child’s weight.

According to the results published in the September 2003 Pediatrics, medication error rates were low in both the handwritten and computerized groups – but they were 40 percent lower in the computerized group. Still, it would take 490 inpatient days to see just one error prevented by the computerized system. The Children’s Hospital where the study took place has 38,000 inpatient days per year.

Even though I have become pretty good at deciphering other doctors’ scribbles, and even my own, I favor doing all we can to bring more clarity into healthcare – and this includes clear, legible orders with a double-check safety net.

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.

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