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.
Sokol 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