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Doctors' Handwriting; Why we write the way we write

by Kayode Kuku MB;BS:
I had just finished discussing with a patient and was documenting away in my usual serious but friendly fashion (stealing glances occasionally), then the patient on her way out after receiving her prescription volunteered "Doctor , you've got a fine handwriting for a Doctor", Thanks, I simply replied in my "humbly" proud tone. It really wasn't the first time I had received such a compliment from a patient, yes it wasn't, but mind you I have also heard nurses complain about my handwriting and some patients wonder aloud, "Doctor, what have you written"?

The horrible handwriting of doctors ,as some describe it, has being widely discussed and condemned by many people outside the profession. While some have come to the conclusion that doctors learn to write in a particular unreadable way while in school , others believe that doctors deliberately write in a certain way in order to conceal the exact content of their prescription from their patients. Even though I do not agree with the myth, that doctors handwriting are terrible I have found in my years of schooling and medical practice that most doctors do not particularly pay attention to how well they write nor spend time trying to write legibly for reasons that will be mentioned shortly. That is not to say that doctors have the best of handwritings in any way, on the contrary in fact.

So the question is , why do doctors write the way they write?

Firstly, the truth is that like many individuals in other professions, some doctors do not have nice handwritings! Having said that, I must point out that many doctors develop "bad" handwritings in the course of their training and get used to it. The reason for this is that most doctors during medical school and before the introduction of softcopy lecture notes took down a ridiculous amount of notes via dictations which were usually delivered at a speed close to that of light, so needed to write fast enough in order to meet up with the pace of the lecturer as was the case during medical ward rounds as well. Our medical school training also involved several clinical examinations in which we had limited time mostly to document our history and findings, we therefore needed the ability to write shorthand or really fast, and hence legibility was sacrificed.
In practice, the average doctor has to contend with an incredibly heavy workload on a daily basis and hence invariably resorts to scribbling.

Frankly, there have been claims that the handwriting of doctors pose a genuine risk to patients as they render medical records unfit for purpose and nurses sometimes find it difficult to decipher instructions written by doctors. From the patients perspective, illegible handwriting can delay treatment and lead to unnecessary tests and inappropriate doses which in turn can result in discomfort and death. Illegible handwriting in medical records can indeed have adverse medico-legal complications.

Finally, inasmuch as some doctors are only a subpopulation of the vast majority of people in the society with poor handwritings, the talk about all doctors having bad handwritings is therefore more of a myth than a fact. It is however important that doctors take the pain to write legibly especially when it comes to important details of a medical record, investigation requests and reporting as well as prescription writing in order to avoid wastes and hazard in medical care and ensure efficient written communication with other health workers.

Medic-ALL.Inc 2014

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