Friday, August 18, 2006

What's with the Doctors' Handwriting?

I guess we all have seen doctors' handwriting at one time in the past. Doctor's handwriting is sacred. You would know it, if you have ever had the chance to revere the prescription notes. Those curly, wriggly words which hardly resemble Latin alphabets, dancing around on a brownish note, staring at you as if yelling "Hey you can't recognize me!" - they are unforgettable.

In all my life, I have always wondered how in the world pharmacists manage to recognize those doctors' handwriting. You see, if they are just normal people like you and me, how do they do it? After years of searching and exploring in futile, this question has since been included in my list of all-time greatest mystery of the world. However, today, I finally know the answer... According to some of my friends, recognizing doctor's handwriting is actually part of the pharmacy course. Now that's the reason. No wonder why pharmacy is such a hard course.

I think that you, me and pharmacists would agree that doctor's crappy handwriting is kinda a universal, cultural thing. It turned out that most doctors' handwriting is crappy, regardless of the race, country or the university in which one studied medicine in. I have not much idea why a doctor has to write crappily, maybe they are just plain too lazy to write, after examining billions of patients throughout the day. Or perhaps, the handwriting just kinda manifests the identification of the profession, like how doctors like to pretend they are smart by using all those jargons and Latin phrases.

*** Off-topic rambling ***

Talking about Latin phrases, it's seriously the biggest enemy of medical students. Why would those people coin a cool name like "Internal Globus Pallidus", when it just really is the Latin word for "the inner part of that pale globe"? Or "Magnocellular", which means "regarding to big cells"? Did they have any idea how the cumbersome nomenclature has delayed the progress of science for more than 400 years, almost prevented discovery of Pluto and the landing of Apollo, and caused death of more than 2.3 million patients? *Oops, too much for my exaggeration* Haha, actually not so bad, but at least it turned me away from remembering a lot of details that I need to. Just because those names are professional looking. Or because Latin is the universal professional language.

*** End of off-topic rambling ***

Back to the handwriting... When we talk about doctors' handwriting, a thought that naturally follows is that what if something goes wrong? What if a doctor screwed up a drug's name and killed a patient? That was one of the questions posted by a ReCommer today:
One of my lecturers once told us that, sometimes doctors can just scribble away when they dont know the spelling for those drugs, disease, or parasites name .

So, hows that?
I was pretty amazed by my ability to come up with an explanation in my attempt to save the medical institution from disgrace. But I did include a story to make it sound, errr, you know, "fair".
Eerm, it's not as bad as you think, I guess. I understand what you mean, but it's not that a doctor would forget the name of your cough mixture and will simply scribble down things like "amelioraugmentin". More likely, say the doctor is supposed to prescribe Nifedipine (one of the drugs indicated for hypertension or angina patients)... The doctor may not be able to recall exactly whether it's nifedipine, nefidinpin, nefindiping etc; so in this case, he or she will tend to write thing like "N ..*jiggling*.. fid ..*zig-zags*.. pine" or something like that.

In any case, it's right to say that doing this may lead to disastrous consequences. In fact a few days ago, our tutor told us that there was one case, a nurse was supposed to inject a particular amount of a particular drug, and the amount written by a doctor / nurse (can't remember) was like this:

What do you think that is? 99? 44? 77? 49?

The nurse injected 44 units of drug into the patient, and the patient died. It turned out it was supposedly 4u, or 4 unit of drugs. Having been given 11 times therapeutic dose of drug, the patient was literally killed by the doctor, or whoever who came up with that crappy handwriting.

Perhaps this could show us just how important handwriting is to the healthcare profession. But luckily such mishap is rare, and perhaps will be even less likely to happen in the future following the implementation of electrical records.
Hail to the doctors' handwriting! Let's practice writing today!


day-dreamer said...

I have also been wondering why on earth are doctors' handwriting so

Pharmacists learn how to read doctors' writing... does med students learn how to create doctors' handwriting? :P

Ren Jie said...

I remember when I was in primary school, one of the teachers teased me that if I were to become a doctor, the patients would be laughing at the way I write, as in, the unqiue way I hold a pen/pencil. :p

I wonder if all doctors have crappy handwriting. Imagine some doctors who have really nice and legible handwriting like Eric's. That would certainly be a pleasure to the pharmacists/nurses. =)

JasonLau85 said...

should there be a handwriting course for all the doctors before they are qualified? said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
youngyew said...

day-dreamer: Haha, no lar, I guess it's partly due to the fact that they have not much time for every patient. Nowadays the patient to doctor ratio is still kinda high (around 1400 to 1 in Malaysia right now), so doctors do have to do their job fast. For example, I always find it hard to follow doctor's footstep in a war, because they walk extremely fast.

ren jie: How do you hold your pencil? I didn't notice any abnormal arr... ? By the way, I guess most crappy handwriting are from male doctors, I have yet to see crappy handwriting from female doctors. :P

jasonlau85: Haha, maybe? But maybe it's just too hard to change one's handwriting when they are already in their twenties... It's kinda part of a person's personality already.

Feeling said...

changyang, this is the post that reflect my current situation. I always yelled inside my heart, 'why they just cant write properly... their writings are just like cacing'

really sick to read the writings when you have many prescriptions waiting for you and it is 6 o clock and you havent had your lunch!

youngyew said...

feeling: Haha, so poor... You have to practice reading doctor's handwriting already?

By the way, I hope that my future handwriting wouldn't cause pharmacist troubles... Although my current handwriting would already be very problematic. :P

Anonymous said...

One of the main reasons they write like that is to make it distinct so that it's hard to forge. That's why they use all the little number and codes and distinct spellings and scribbles. There used to be a LOT of prescriptions forged back in the day... people would often get ahold of prescription pads, write their own prescriptions, and get ahold of stuff they weren't "supposed" to get.

Now, a forgery is much easier to detect.

Also, of course, some doctors just have crappy handwriting, and others are just in a hurry. But the main reason is to make it distinct and hard to forge. Don't believe me? Ask a doctor.