Saturday, December 01, 2007

Shocking statistics, the horror! Doctors handwriting are not killing 7000 people annually [updated 2016]

Handwriting, © Matthew Lorono 2016In a article this year [2007], TIME Magazine reported that "doctors' sloppy handwriting kills more than 7,000 people annually."  That sounds shocking.  It is sad that 7000 people die unnecessarily each year for any reason.  The problem with this statistic is that it is not accurately stated.  Worse yet, this inaccuracy is based on a nine year old report.  Here's the clincher, the TIME Magazine article was promoting a particular device as the solution to the claimed issue with doctors' sloppy handwriting.

What is an accurate statement? Metro News reported that according to the Institute of Medicine (article), there was a 1998 study that found 7000 deaths occurred each year from all medication-related errors from all sources.
"Moreover, while errors may be more easily detected in hospitals, they afflict every health care setting: day-surgery and outpatient clinics, retail pharmacies, nursing homes, as well as home care. Deaths from medication errors that take place both in and out of hospitals – more than 7,000 annually – exceed those from workplace injuries."[001]
It appears that the IOM report actually didn't discuss handwriting as serious issue at all.  Of more concern was the problem of inaccurate prescriptions and incorrect doses by caregivers (hospitals, nursing homes, etc).  FDA stated the following in their report Strategies to Reduce Medication Errors: Working to Improve Medication Safety:
"In response to the IOM's report, all parts of the U.S. health system put error reduction strategies into high gear by re-evaluating and strengthening checks and balances to prevent errors."[002]
So, the US health system had already started to take the appropriate actions to address the real problems.  All the while, the real problems are completely ignored by the TIME article.  The issue of inaccurate reporting on this topic is especially egregious in light of the recent news regarding Dennis Quaid's twins who were accidentally seriously overdosed with a medication at their hospital.

I've found inaccuracies, such as those found in the TIME article, so common that I seek out the source material before accepting claims of news articles that purportedly reference scientific studies.  Overall, I look at the mass media with an open yet critical eye.

Comment
Since this article was originally written in 2007, we've seen the end of handwritten prescriptions.  It's not even necessary to have any slip of paper at all.  Everything is handled in cyberspace (or on the cloud, as it is often termed these days).  Some places are enacting laws that require electronic prescriptions.[003]  Personally, I've not carried a prescription as slip of paper in years.  Even in 2007, the idea of a device to resolve the issue of doctor handwriting seemed shortsighted, and hindsight seems to have confirmed those doubts.

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