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Why Doctors Write Bad

by Dr.Sal MD on author

doctor bad writing

Doctor handwriting is notoriously bad and has become the cliché joke of the industry. Is bad handwriting a prerequisite to becoming a physician? Nope. So why? The answer is time.. or rather the lack thereof. Writing bad for a doctor is a survival adaptation. I know because I've done it myself. Think, in a single eight hour shift we can write our signature a hundred or more times! And that's just our signature icing on the top of layers upon layers of additional verbiage cake. The problem doctors face is the volume of paperwork that needs to be performed for each patient encounter. For legal reasons, everything done, found, considered, instructed or reported by patients must be documented. Many doctors come to the Epiphany at some point of their careers that most of this paper-trail monster ends life stuffed in filing cabinets to never be seen again, of no value to anyone but lawyers and insurance men, and interferes in what is really important to us - seeing and treating patients!

Doctors also come to the realization that what we write is for internal consumption, not for public record. As you'll see later down, the way we write is decipherable amongst us docs and pharmacists because we know what hooks we're looking for. And you'll see that illegible bad doctor handwriting is acquired, not innate. (Consider: how could anyone get through college, far less medical school, writing like a cockroach from the get go? Their profs would never put up with illegible term papers or exam answers).

How to Write Bad Just Like a Doctor

The problem with this kind of handwriting is when doctors get so in the habit of writing bad that they write everything bad including public documents in this medical shorthand that nobody else outside of medicine - and occasionally they themselves - can't read. Worse is when this charting script makes it onto our prescription pads. Every year patients are hurt by errors of interpretation e.g. Celexa and Celebrex scribbled look like a doppelganger. So it's important to remember that doctor handwriting has limitations like any other tool in our medicine bag. Luckily, the advent of computer records are quickly making naughty doctor handwriting and scribbled chicken scratch records relics of the past. The majority of my chart notes and prescriptions today are either dictated or typed unlike a decade ago. With time, doctor handwriting will likely go the way of the dodo bird, choked out by technology, and a few remaining samples will be displayed to future generations from glass boxes at museums.


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