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Frame guidelines for medical prescription writing

It is fact that doctor’s handwriting can only be read by an experienced pharmacist who can know what medicine the physician wanted to prescribe based on the diagnosis and the symptoms. From the patient’s perspective, illegible handwriting can delay treatment and lead to unnecessary tests and inappropriate doses which, in turn, can result in discomfort and death. It’s a serious problem – as the patient may get sicker or die after being given the wrong drug – but is vastly underreported in India. The days of doctors’ prescriptions being parallel lines of illegible scrawls punctuated by the odd circle to indicate dosage, may soon be a thing of the past. Handwriting itself is on the verge of extermination. But we find that most of the prescriptions are handwritten if not hand-scribbled. Regarding drugs, essentially they have to be written in capital letters and any ambiguity can create serious problems.

At times, the handwriting is so bad that we are forced to call up the doctor and check. Spelling mistakes are also common. Sometimes, doctors are not sure of the spelling and so just write it in a messy way.  There are some doctors who are too busy to spend time on writing legibly but that cannot be taken as an excuse when it can cause damage to a patient’s health. There are some who are habitual in poor handwriting. No doubt, medical practitioners have now been asked to write prescription in capital letters and also put down the generic names of the drugs prescribed. The central government has also approved to amend Indian Medical Council Regulations, 2002, providing therein that every physician should prescribe drugs with generic names in legible and capital latter and he/she shall ensure that there is a rational prescription and use of drugs. Unfortunately, some write in such a way that only a particular pharmacist, usually attached to the same hospital, can understand the drug names prescribed.

A lot of drugs have similar spellings, but cater to different medical conditions. In such a case, a slight error on part of the chemist to read the doctor’s handwriting can have serious consequences. There’s no excuse for poor handwriting though, it should be decided that doctors should only write prescriptions only in capital letters. Thank God we have computers now and some doctors are prescribing the medication in print but it is difficult to issue computer-generated prescriptions, especially in rural areas. But an effort should be made to have some standard rules for prescription writing.


Vinod Chandrashekhar Dixit

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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