Mind Your Ascenders

by Catherine Wilson, Editor

I have the handwriting of a serial killer. And so, I prefer cutting letters out of the newspaper and pasting them together on paper but it turns out that’s not a good idea. Everyone’s so touchy these days.

My predicament is the result of being left-handed. Being of a certain age, relatives who shall remain nameless tried to ‘cure’ this deviation, and in doing so rendered my penmanship almost illegible. They had fallen for the myth that accused lefthanders of being rebellious, unstable and just plain peculiar. Oh yeah?

Fellow lefties include Picasso, Harry Truman, Michaelangelo and all of the Manhattan Transfer. (The list also includes Jack the Ripper, George Bush Sr., and the Boston Strangler, but that’s not the point.)

Am I in my right mind or am I coming out of left field with this? Is handwriting, good or bad, obsolete? Should we mourn the passage of penmanship? I, for one, spend most of my day pecking at my keyboard and stabbing with my stylus.

Should we strive for homogeneous strokes or celebrate the secrets of each script? Does penmanship denote character and personality? Does the way in which we shape our letters tell our historical, cultural and familial secrets? (Read the first sentence of this editorial again).

We don’t even write entire words anymore. Hooray for Acronyms and Emoticons .

Is it time to phase out handwritten prescriptions? The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has estimated that as many as 1.3 million Americans are injured each year due to medication errors such as receiving the wrong dose or the wrong drug. Illegible handwriting is a known killer.

The Institute for Safe Medical Practices (ISMP) says that medication errors cause more US deaths than workplace injuries and would like to see the end of handwritten prescriptions. The group advocates the use of electronic systems that print legible prescriptions. Experts believe as many as one-quarter of medication errors may be related to illegible handwriting. And while dentists may write prescriptions for the same painkillers and antibiotics over and over again, can you be too careful? Many medication errors can be traced to fatigue, a hectic workplace environment and a failure to check medication names, dosages and interactions.

Here are some tips from a recent presentation on medication errors:

Check your handwriting; avoid the term ‘use as directed’…write down your instructions instead; recheck dosage calculations; include all pertinent information; do not use abbreviations; avoid decimals; and use pre-typed prescriptions or drug-name ink stamps for frequently prescribed medications.

Undoubtedly, penmanship says a lot about who we are. Some say the way we write reveals more about us than our clothing, dcor or cuisine. But when it comes to your patients’ health, how you say it speaks volumes.

Next issue: what your doodles reveal about you .