Fillers One hundred years ago

Illegible prescriptions

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 29 April 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1053

The Austrian Minister of the Interior has recently called the attention of medical practitioners to the serious evils caused by illegible prescriptions. He insists that every prescription “must be clearly and legibly written in all its parts.” If we may judge from “awful examples” from abroad which at one time or another have come under our notice, prescribers in this country do not, as a rule, cultivate the art of hieroglyphic writing with such success as many of their foreign brethren. But there are not a few among us who would seem to act on the popular theory that illegible handwriting is a proof of genius. Serious and even fatal accidents have been caused by the careless writing of symbols, or the misreading of the preparation of an active drug which the physician intended to order. The fact that such accidents are so rare is a gratifying proof of the efficiency with which, on the whole, dispensing is carried out. Moreover, an undecipherable ingredient is not unlikely to be replaced by something which the pharmacist may judge to be a satisfactory substitute. The effect of this will often be bad, although occasionally it may be good. In the former case the art of healing is undeservedly discredited; in the latter medical science is to some extent vitiated since “Betty's praised for labours not her own.” An illegible prescription is a danger to the patient, a hindrance and perhaps a temptation to the pharmacist, and a disgrace to the physician.

(BMJ 1904;i: 152)

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