Doctors’ Handwriting: A Pharmacist’s Nightmare

by pharmacy on December 7, 2010

One of the biggest fears of any pharmacist is filling a prescription improperly. Getting the wrong medication, the wrong dosage, or the wrong frequency could all potentially be life threatening mistakes. The margin for error in the field of pharmaceuticals is quite small. Between drug allergies, drug interactions, and dispensing medications that are harmful to a customer’s health, there are a number of ways filling a prescription can go horribly wrong if the pharmacist has trouble reading the physician’s handwriting.

Why so Bad?

Why do doctors have such horrible handwriting? While this is a stereotype, the majority of doctors do seem to have poor penmanship. One explanation for this is that they are pushed to see too many patients in each appointment slot, and are therefore rushed when writing prescriptions. Another possibility is that it is their use of abbreviations rather than truly bad penmanship that makes the prescriptions so difficult to read.

What to Do?

It can be tempting to call any time there is any question as to the exact nature of a prescription; unfortunately, this could result in marathon phone sessions with multiple doctors. As doctors are usually hard to get in touch with due to their hectic schedules, this is not an ideal solution. For the most part, reading prescriptions takes practice. It is not something you can learn in school, because each doctor has a different way of writing the prescription and has different handwriting. When you begin your career, ask for a second opinion from other pharmacists who have more experience with the doctors who write in your area; even the technicians may be able to give assistance, as they may have experience prepping the prescription or entering the information into the computer for billing purposes. If neither of these are options and you are truly worried about your reading of the prescription, you should of course call the doctor and request assistance. As this will likely take additional time, you should inform the client that their prescription will be delayed and explain the situation to him or her. While being able to quickly assist customers is one of your responsibilities, your ultimate responsibility is to make sure the patient is receiving the proper medication.

While reading prescriptions will become easier with experience, there will likely always be a bit of anxiety each time you encounter a new prescription. This is not a bad thing. By always being conscious of the importance of reading the prescription properly, you are less likely to make mistakes that could harm your customer.

How often has a doctor’s illegibly written prescription caused you a problem in the pharmacy? Were you unable to read the instructions at all or did you inadvertently give the wrong medication to a patient? How did you handle the situation?

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