MEDICAL ERRORS: Computers Could Eliminate Penmanship Mistakes
Pointing to an Institute of Medicine report last November that revealed that medical errors may cause as many as 98,000 deaths per year, a San Francisco Chronicle editorial states that "health care officials are starting to become truly concerned about the penmanship of doctors and nurses whose illegible scrawlings can cause anxiety, discomfort and death." Although physicians have long been notorious for "bad handwriting," the editorial notes that experts "attribute as much as 25% of the medication errors to the chicken-like scratchings that routinely pass for doctors' penmanship." Now, both government and medical institutions nationwide are starting to address the issue, the editorial states, pointing to Los Angeles' Ceders-Sinai Medical Center, which offers doctors "refresher courses in penmanship," and Indiana University Medical School, which now issues "assignments in penmanship" to medical students. In addition, the editorial notes that Washington state's Gov. Gary Locke (D) recently signed a law that requires doctors to write "legible" prescriptions. The editorial asserts that these efforts "acknowledge the crucial connection between legibility and quality health care, a relationship that modern medicine has been painfully slow to recognize." Still, the editorial urges medical institutions to go beyond improving handwriting and implement computer-based systems as "an even better way to curtail medical mistakes." The editorial concludes, "The computers, able to reduce medical errors by as much as 50%, could save lives, allowing doctors to focus on diagnoses instead of on crossing t's" (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.