Doctors, your illegible handwriting says you give a damn about patients

Years ago, I heard about the awkward predicament of a young girl. She used to visit chemist shops frequently. No, she was not a patient of chronic diarrhoea; she was in a long-distance relationship with a doctor who used to write to her once a week. Like most doctors, his handwriting was also illegible. It could not be read: it could only be deciphered.

Most doctors write illegibly and it’s extremely annoying. We have all experienced it. Forget about names of the medicines on the prescription, we can’t even figure out whether we have to pop the pill before waking up or after going to bed. Like a bunch of buffoons, we have to depend on the extraordinary ability of salesmen at medicine shops to know what has been prescribed to us.

“Why can’t these doctors write clearly?” an exasperated chemist near my residence once muttered when I handed over to him a medical prescription. The query could indeed by categorised as a universal poser: why don’t doctors write legibly? But I believe a more pertinent question here should be: why do doctors write illegibly and what does it mean? We’ll try finding answers here.

Doctor, writing legibly means showing care. Do patients not deserve that?Last month, I came across a report about a Mumbai doctor who was lambasted by a court of law for preparing a medical report in illegible handwriting.

Following the rap, the doctor gave an undertaking in the court that she would try to improve her handwriting. (Read the report). It was a good precedent set by the court. Even as I was reading the report, a friend called up and said, “Vish, why don’t you write on doctors’ illegible handwriting?”

“If I do, I will die unattended when I’m unwell,” I told the friend.

“Never mind. There are certainly a few doctors who write legibly and you can depend on them,” she argued.

She was right. I decided to write on doctors who write illegibly. Handwriting experts across the world have established that consistently illegible handwriting is indicative of a subconscious inclination to be careless, negligent and sloppy towards the person for whom it has been written.

Therefore, if a doctor writes illegibly for his patients, it means he is inconsiderate to the recipients of the prescriptions.

It’s like an attitude imprinted on the paper, which could be roughly put into words in the following manner: “I don’t care whether you are able to read it or not; I don’t care whether you get well or not; I am sitting here doing my job the way I like, in my own style. How much you will be benefitted from my skills is your problem and I am not going to be least bothered about what happens to you after you leave this cabin. Just pay the fee to my assistant and get out…”

I know it sounds bizarre but that’s what illegible handwriting means. Most doctors argue that they write illegibly because they are in haste and they have to attend to many patients. Now, I have a little problem with this argument. It’s complete hogwash. We can prove it.

On an average, a doctor does not write more than 40 words on a prescription. Let’s assume that it takes them about three minutes to write a prescription in illegible handwriting. But if they write legibly, maybe they will take four minutes. Not more than that. The difference is just about 60 seconds. Doc, are you telling us that you write illegibly because you are too busy to spare 60 seconds to the person who is paying you for it? Sorry, sir, give me another one. If you consistently write illegibly for your patients, it shows your carelessness and inconsideration.

Interestingly, the same friend who told me to write on doctors’ illegible handwriting shared with me that her grandfather, a doctor by profession, used to write illegibly on prescriptions. But suprisingly, his handwriting was amazingly clear when he wrote personal letters. Why is that?

It’s because legible handwriting shows that you care for the recipient of the text. Hence, every time he wrote to his family members, he wanted to show how caring he is. Haven’t all of us experienced that we become very concerned about legibility while writing on greetings cards? Have you ever thought why? I’m sure you got your answer today. If you didn’t, here it is: Legibility, graphology says, is a subconscious way to show care.

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  • Gabriela Caz

    Have you been in med school? When I was in high school,  my writing wasnt exactly beautiful, but it was pretty legible, when I started med school I learned that the amont of information that the teachers throw at you is more that the one that you can write down, and a lot of that information is not even in the books, is the experience of the teacher, so you need to find a way to write the most you can in the minimum amount of time, and after so many years doing the same thing, you get used to writing that way. 

    I’ve seen it first hand, my classmates think anyone can understand their notes, but it turns out that only the person who wrote them can

  • Caroline

    I must say I’m a medical student. In my opinion, everything is a matter of how much you care. In class I write way too fast and with very illegible handwriting but when I do my clinical reports I want people to understand what I have written. It is assumed that doctors are to provide solutions, not to create another problem. It’s all about how much you care!

    You’re absolutely right!

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