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Millennium Post

Fatally flawed prescriptions

Doctors are so looked upon as gods because they belong to a healing profession that some of the serious flaws in their profession, knowledge and training get overlooked. Among the many problems with the medical profession, one that is of common experience and stands out is that of illegible handwriting on the part of doctors for which a solution has now been offered. The problem of illegible writing would be amusing were it not for the serious consequences that flow from it. It has been estimated that in the US alone 7,000 deaths are caused by doctors' illegible writing. This is a very large number of deaths and the trouble is these are preventible and should not have happened at all when the intention was to heal the sick. When taken together with the number of people falling sick because of the same cause, which is 1.5 millions in the US, this indicates a serious problem. It is estimated that in India 40 lakh prescriptions are written daily. The number of people affected by badly written prescriptions in our country can be easily imagined as well as the number of fatalities from this cause. It is not just abdominal pains and rashes that affect those patients who get such prescriptions filled out and among those who fall sick, many do so seriously, while some are permanently affected and, as noted, some die. With the extent and pervasiveness of the medical profession in our lives and our societies, the numbers of those affected worldwide must be enormous though no precise study has been carried out. These are all needless deaths and sickness and should not happen at all. That they do shows a callous approach.

It is easy enough to see how bad handwriting can lead to such fatal errors. It hardly needs to be said that the illegible handwriting of the prescriber leads to problems with interpreting the prescription. This leads to the giving of incorrect drug strengths or concentrations or to an incorrect duration of treatment or mix-ups between drugs names that sound similar, among other mistakes. There is obviously a problem with medical training with the result that doctors are not fully trained to write their prescriptions clearly. While in medical school they hardly fill out any prescriptions while this is an important part of the work that they actually do. A solution that an NGO in India has offered is that doctors should write their prescriptions in capital letters. This is a simple enough reform. This would ensure less errors in the interpretation of prescriptions. It is a suggestion that should not meet a wall of conservatism or the inertia that has prevented similar reforms in the past from taking root. This is a simple enough suggestion that should be taken up seriously.
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