Home > comedy, psychology > Do Doctors Really Have Bad Handwriting?

Do Doctors Really Have Bad Handwriting?

Trying to kill time and not my neighbour who enjoys listening to loud music after midnight, I found myself wondering why do most GPs have bad handwriting! Or is it a myth? Naturally, Google came up with some very interesting results including some actual studies! It seems like there are peer reviewed papers on almost any possibly topic nowadays. What a joy for bloggers and curious people.

Here’s what I found:

1) According to Sokol and Hettige (2006) doctors’ bad handwriting is still a problem in medicine.

In centuries past, doctors scribbled notes to keep a personal record of the patient’s medical history. The notes were generally seen only by the doctor. Today, doctors are no longer one-man bands. With dozens of other professionals, doctors are but one element of a large, multidisciplinary health care team. A consequence of this expansion is that illegible scrawls, hurriedly composed by rushed doctors, are now presented to colleagues with no qualifications in cryptology.

2) Rodríguez-Vera and colleagues (2002) looked at clinical histories and case notes from a Spanish general hospital. To do this, they asked two independent observers to assign legibility scores to the notes. They found that defects of legibility such that the whole was unclear were present in 18 (15%) of 117 reports. Furthermore, their findings suggest that these defects were particularly frequent in records from surgical departments…

3) A 1998 study examined the handwriting of doctors, nurses plus other medical professions, and administrative staff. The recruited staff from three main settings – the health authority headquarters, an accident and emergency department, and various departments in another hospital. They report:

This study suggests that doctors, even when asked to be as neat as possible, produce handwriting that is worse than that of other professions. This provides supportive evidence for the commonly held belief that the legibility of doctors’ handwriting is unusually poor. A small prospective study in the United States reported no difference between the legibility of doctors’ handwriting and that of other healthcare professionals,4 but this study used a subjective assessment of readability and the comparison group was confined to senior non-medical staff.

A surprising finding of our study is that the poor legibility was confined to letters of the alphabet rather than numbers. This may reflect the importance attached by doctors to the legibility of drug doses.

4) Schneider and colleagues (2006) compared doctors’ handwriting to that of engineers, accountants, and lawyers. Their results suggest that physicians’ handwriting is no better or worse than that of other professionals with comparable education. These findings provided support for an earlier study conducted by Berwick and Winickoff (1996) that found that “the handwriting of doctors was no less legible than that of non-doctors”.

5) A study by Gupta and colleagues (2003) investigating differences in handwriting between residents and medical students found that the more experienced doctors had increasingly illegible handwriting compared to their younger colleagues and to medical students. As a result, one could propose that bad handwriting is a product of the profession of medicine.

ResearchBlogging.orgSokol DK, & Hettige S (2006). Poor handwriting remains a significant problem in medicine. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 99 (12), 645-6 PMID: 17139073

Rodriguez-Vera, F., Marin, Y., Sanchez, A., Borrachero, C., & Pujol, E. (2002). Illegible handwriting in medical records JRSM, 95 (11), 545-546 DOI: 10.1258/jrsm.95.11.545

Schneider KA, Murray CW, Shadduck RD, & Meyers DG (2006). Legibility of doctors’ handwriting is as good (or bad) as everyone else’s. Quality & safety in health care, 15 (6) PMID: 17142598

Berwick DM, & Winickoff DE (1996). The truth about doctors’ handwriting: a prospective study. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 313 (7072), 1657-8 PMID: 8991021

Gupta AK, Cooper EA, Feldman SR, Fleischer AB Jr, & Balkrishnan R (2003). Analysis of factors associated with increased prescription illegibility: results from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, 1990-1998. The American journal of managed care, 9 (8), 548-52 PMID: 12921232

  1. tskraghu
    17/02/2011 at 02:26


  2. Bhavin
    17/02/2011 at 12:22

    Good stuff!

  3. 21/02/2011 at 14:17

    Thank you very much for this post. I have laughed a lot with it. It is absolutely true!

  4. dr michael farrell
    18/04/2011 at 11:15

    Great posting, and there is a potential good research project there well done

  5. 16/05/2011 at 23:51

    It’s interesting that senior doctors, but not residents had terrible handwriting, but that doctors’ handwriting is no worse than engineers, lawyers or accountants. Perhaps it’s the handwriting of experienced professionals that is bad? It’d be interesting to compare trainee engineers etc. and residents with their more experienced colleagues.

    Disclaimer: My handwriting is shocking.

  6. MBT
    09/07/2011 at 06:59

    Wonderful work! Thanks for this article. Looking forward to next one.

  7. Jcj
    08/01/2012 at 19:22

    I think drs just jot down things in a rush because their minds are already on something else and it’s not neat handwriting.
    The might jotting down a prescription but their minds are prepping up for the next patient.
    I dunno, I’m not a doctor but I wish I was one.

  8. S.V
    29/03/2012 at 12:58

    I personally thought that they write it this way because they are not sure about the spelling of the drugs they prescribe and they are smart enough to avoid asking the pharmacist “hey how do you spell this thing “in front of the patient.

  9. 30/05/2012 at 16:46

    I come from a doctor family – everyone whose a doctor has a bad handwritting, of course, me as a offspring too have a bad handwritting – it comes with the genes.

    • CX
      11/03/2015 at 16:50

      “I come from a doctor family – everyone whose a doctor has a bad handwritting, of course, me as a offspring too have a bad handwritting – it comes with the genes.”

      No, it doesn’t. That’s absurd.

      It comes from having a thousand more important things to worry about than neat handwriting. Anybody who has been through a long graduate program will understand this.

  1. 23/02/2011 at 14:34
  2. 10/05/2011 at 22:17

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domestic diva, M.D.

my mother raised the perfect housewife...then I went to med school


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