For those who find a handwritten prescription by a doctor nothing short of a riddle, Medscape India plans to solve it by producing a handbook to serve as a quick guide for doctors to write clearly.
Doctors and their confusing handwriting is nothing new in the medical profession. Their scrawl is even the butt of jokes in many countries. In India, however, a non-profit organization wants to do something about it. Medscape India, which is a source for answering ordinary peoples' medical queries as well as those of medical professionals, is looking to solve not only this irksome - but even dangerous - problem.
Medscape, based in the western city of Mumbai, has initiated an awareness campaign for doctors to write legibly after it came to light that illegible prescriptions had led to the dispensing of the wrong drugs to patients and, in turn, had been fatal in an alarming number of cases.
"It was during a medical conference earlier this year, when one of the doctors admitted how the name of a medicine in his handwritten prescription was allegedly misunderstood by a pharmacist. Consequently the patient suffered some serious side effects.” Sunita Dube, President of Medscape India, told DW.
However, there are also an unfortunate few who have died after taking the wrong medicine.
"My brother Jai had thalassemia and was asked to take ethasyl, but in place of it the chemist gave him ethancil, which proved fatal. When I confronted the chemist, his candid response was, ‘I was unable to decipher it as the writing was so confusing so I sold the nearest sounding medicine',” Dinesh Tiwari, a transport company worker, told DW.
Now Tiwari pays extra attention to doctors' prescriptions. In fact he has asked his friends and relatives also to consult a doctor in case of any confusion.
This is just one of many cases that have happened in large numbers; but which, most of the time, remain undocumented, claims Dube.
She added that in developed countries, like the USA, it has already been documented that there are around 7,000 deaths a year because of illegible prescriptions.
According to Dube, 20 to 30 percent of doctors have bad handwriting, probably due to work pressure and stress. What's more, at times doctors don't know the spelling or brand name of the medicine correctly and jumble up the words in their unusual style of writing, she said.
This has compelled Dube to run workshops for doctors on the need for - and techniques of - clear handwriting. By January of next year, Medscape plans to release a handbook, which will serve as a quick guide for doctors.
Results so far
Medscape has so far conducted four workshops in Mumbai, in collaboration with the Esha Foundation, which has a team of 50 handwriting experts.
By January of next year, Medscape plans to release a handbook, which will serve as a guide for doctors
Even India's pharmacies say that already there has been a considerable amount of improvement in the way doctors write their prescriptions.
"We are asking doctors to write their phone numbers and registration numbers so that it is easier for the pharmacists to give them a call in the event of urgency," says Dube.
"But, at times, the doctors are not clear over the phone. Therefore, the pharmacists should request that patients get a clearly written prescription, rather than sell medication on a mere presumption," urges Prasad Mule, General Secretary of the Kurla Chemist Association, a pharmacist trade group.
Similarly, Dr. Kishor Taori, chairman of the Maharashtra Medical Council, thinks that doctors and pharmacists should support and attend the workshops being held for this cause.
However, making her intentions clear, Dube asserts: "My aim is to create awareness with no intentions to hurt, harm or offend anyone from the medical fraternity."
Things to roll soon
In a scheduled meeting this month, Medscape plans to bring together the deans of medical colleges, health council members, doctors, pharmacists, nursing council, medical organizations and associations to take this campaign forward.
Efforts are also being made to equip doctors with computers so that they can issue more printed prescriptions to avoid illegible handwriting and spelling errors.
"It is not an easy task, as a doctor myself, to promote an initiative against my own peers," says Dube.
Still, she is elated about the voluntary participation of doctors and pharmcists and the immense support coming from the healthcare industry as a whole.
But, even so, remember the words of the famous American columnist, author and journalist Earl Wilson: "You may not be able to read a doctor's handwriting and prescription, but you'll notice his bills are neatly typewritten."