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THE ILLEGIBLE PRESCRIPTION WRITING ISSUE

Ramesh Shankar
Wednesday, February 7, 2024, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

For crores of patients and lakhs of pharmacists, illegible prescription writing by doctors has been a major issue for a long time now. It is common knowledge that illegible prescription leads to wrong dispensing, wrong medication and toxicities, claims lives or affects health and huge monetary loss for follow up treatments as well as hospitalization.  The gravity of the issue can be gauged from an expert’s comment who aptly said that most doctors' handwriting does not look much different from an electrocardiograph tracing. In our country doctors are well aware that most of the patients do not understand much about medicines prescribed to them. Most of the patients would present their doctor's prescription to the chemists and quietly walk home with the drugs dispensed by the pharmacists.  It is well known that the chemist's shop is usually managed by a matriculate boy who fills in for the mandatory pharmacist. As if the general chaos at the chemist's counters was not enough, pharmaceutical companies have added fuel to the fire with confusing brand names. It is under this background, the then Medical Council of India (MCI) issued guidelines on September 28, 2016, making it mandatory for the doctors to write the medicines in capital letters. More recently, the National Medical Commission (the erstwhile MCI) had also issued guidelines on May 23, 2022 in this regard. All these guidelines were meant to prevent wrong dispensing, medication error and ensure patient safety. Even though these agencies have repeatedly been directing the medical fraternity to write the names of medicines legibly in capital letters with preference to generic names, the fact remains that majority of the medical professionals in the country are still adhering to their conventional style of prescription writing.

Things have now reached such a pass that the court has also intervened in the matter. Recently, while pronouncing a judgment, the Orissa High Curt has observed that the prescriptions, medico-legal and the postmortem reports written by the medical professionals create difficulty in reading and it is affecting the comprehension of the reports badly. Observing that the state judicial system finds it difficult to read the reports and reach a definite conclusion, the court directed the chief secretary of the state to direct the doctors' community to change their casual approach of writing reports and write all the documents in a readable way. On the direction of Orissa High Court, the chief secretary issued a circular urging all the doctors in the state to write the prescriptions and postmortem reports legibly in capital letters or in typed form for easy reading. The circular has come into force from January 11, 2024. The circular wanted all the registered medical practitioners, medical officers of government hospitals, peripheral healthcare facilities, medical college hospitals, private medical colleges and private clinics to write prescriptions and medical reports in proper legible handwriting or in typed form. The Orissa High Court has observed that the zigzag style of writing by doctors cannot be read by the judicial officers to reach a conclusion for evidence. Same is the case with the pharmacists at the medical shops who face difficulties in reading some of the names of the medicines written by the doctors, especially some specialists who write only the first two letters and the last two letters with a long line in the middle. This kind of unreadable manner of prescription writing makes the pharmacists at the hospital and community pharmacies confused which leads to dispensing errors and wrong delivery of medicines. No doubt, it is a preventable medical error. The National Medical Commission should now take a serious note of this menace as this can save a lot of lives in the country.

 

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