Thou shalt write legibly
Clare Hughes finds out why the Medical Defence Union sees doctors' illegible scrawls as a serious health hazard and suggests some practical tips for saving your patients from death by handwriting
- By: Clare Hughes
An old saying goes that doctors go to school to learn how to write illegibly and pharmacists go to school to learn how to read what doctors write. But where is the evidence that our writing is so bad? The hypothesis that medics write in a code of self righteous chicken scratches has been tested in a number of studies.
One study looked at the legibility of doctors' handwriting compared with that of other clinicians and healthcare executives and managers. Independent volunteers gave subjective ratings of legibility as either poor, fair, good, or excellent. They found that the poorest scores were associated with executives and men, but not specifically with doctors.1 The researchers concluded, however, that just because they found doctors' handwriting to be average did not make it acceptable--they were worried that illegible handwriting can be an important clinical hazard.
Another study had conflicting results and supports the conventional