Doctors fail writing test

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The Independent Online
THE LEGENDARY illegibility of doctors' handwriting receives scientific backing today from a study that shows medical notes really are as unreadable as they seem.

A comparison of doctors' handwriting with that of nurses and managers showed the medics came out worst. Even when asked to write as neatly as possible, doctors were incapable of producing script that could be recognised by a computer designed for the job.

Researchers in Swansea asked 38 doctors to write the letters of the alphabet and the numbers 0-9 on a form which they were told would be used to test a computer programme for optical character recognition.

The samples of writing, together with similar samples from the nurses and managers, were analysed using a standard computer software package and unrecognised characters highlighted. The doctors scored twice as many errors as the nurses and managers.

Doctors' poor writing has been attributed to the number of prescriptions patients ask them to write. But the researchers, writing in the British Medical Journal, say that surprisingly they were better at writing numbers than letters. "This may reflect the importance attached by doctors to the legibility of drug doses." they say.

Proof that doctors are labouring under a paper mountain of bureacracy has come from a study of 65 GP practices in Cambridge. Researchers collected 855 different guidelines which, when stacked up, made a pile more than 2ft high weighing more than 60 lbs. An urgent switch to an electronic medium that would allow searches for specific information is needed they say.