You would think that in today's computerized world, more medication prescriptions would be printed out. But all too many New York doctors persist in handwriting prescriptions on a pad, often with handwriting so illegible that it is the frequent butt of jokes by late-night comedians. But the subject is no laughing matter to Long Island patients who are the victims of prescription errors, some of which can result in serious injury and even death.
In addition to the possibility that a pharmacist could misread a handwritten prescription and give a patient the wrong medicine, it is possible that the pharmacist may give the wrong dosage. While pharmacists should call the prescribing physician any time he or she can't determine what the prescription actually says, it seems that many pharmacists don't.
Receiving the wrong medication presents a possible double problem. The patient is deprived of the medicine he or she had been prescribed, which may have helped cure or alleviate their illness. Just as important, the wrong medication may have harmful side effects or wreak medical havoc.
Physicians call these "adverse drug events" and they can range in seriousness from rashes and diarrhea to serious injury and death. It has been determined that physicians are far less likely to make mistakes when they use a computerized system and select a medication and dosage from a list on their computer screens to create a prescription. Researchers in one study uncovered a shocking 37 prescription mistakes in every 100 handwritten prescriptions they examined. By comparison, only 7 out of 100 prescriptions created using software contained mistakes.
Even worse, those doctors who previously handwrote their prescriptions but now use a prescription software had problems in 88 out of every 100 prescriptions when they were still writing them out.
These kinds of mistakes are absolutely horrible, in part because they are 100 percent preventable. If the doctors took the time to invest in and use a computerized prescription program, they would eliminate a considerable number of the prescription errors they make.
Source: The New York Times, "Chicken Scratches vs. Electronic Prescriptions," Randall Stross, April28, 2012