Study finds a good stick will correct doctors’ sloppy handwriting

For years the notorious indecipherability of doctors’ handwriting has been the butt of jokes, however a new study in the UK has found that replacing the old fashioned handwritten script with a simple USB stick could lead to a significant reduction in potentially serious medication errors.

And we’re talking very serious: According to a report in Time Magazine, doctors’ chicken-scrawl handwriting kills more than 7,000 people across the world annually – that’s no laughing matter.

The study, published in The British Journal of General Practice, found that patients at an Irish hospital who were given a USB stick containing their prescription details experienced a median of 1 medication error across the group. In contrast, the control group, who received the usual hand-written scripts, experienced a median of 8 medication errors across the group. The clinical significance of the errors was also much lower in the USB group compared to the control.

The study comprised 102 patients aged 60 and above across five general medical and surgical wards of Mercy Universal Hospital in County Cork.

The results of the study are significant coming after a report released in January of this year by the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) found that over 90 per cent of patients in Australia have at least one medication-related error after they’ve been discharged from hospital.

The report titled Medicine Safety: Take Care, also found that at least one medication error occurs in 3 out of 5 Australian hospital discharge summaries prepared without consultation with a pharmacist.

Authors of the Irish study say, “Discharge from hospital to the community is associated with adverse events, with one in five patients (in Ireland) experiencing an event within 3 weeks of hospital discharge. Medication error is a major potentially preventable source of these adverse events.

The study authors acknowledge that many countries around the world are working towards a fully digitised health care record system, however the transition was slow.

“Perhaps with regard to medication error during transitional care, it is time to return to basics to meet the immediate clinical need. International implementation of eHealth strategies has not been straightforward, and a universal shared care record does not yet exist across healthcare systems.”

This study demonstrates that this device (USB stick) can be successfully used within existing systems without significant additional IT investment, and hence may be complementary to ongoing shared care record development.”

“Though more advanced technologies than USB exist, such technologies may not be applicable to all healthcare systems.”

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