How Lethal Is My Doctor's Sloppy Handwriting?

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This story originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of mental_floss magazine. Subscribe to our print edition here, and our iPad edition here.

That joke about physicians’ indecipherable handwriting? It really isn’t a laughing matter.

U.S. doctors write about 3.2 billion prescriptions every year. The Institute of Medicine reports that, of those, 1.5 million injuries occur because pharmacists or hospital workers misread that handwriting. Worse, sloppily written prescriptions lead to more than 7,000 patient deaths per year.

Fortunately, health-care providers and tech companies have come up with a solution: the National ePrescribing Patient Safety Initiative, which encourages doctors to write prescriptions electronically. Congress backed the plan in 2008, and since then, medical errors caused by sloppy scribbles have dropped by 90 percent.