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Health Professionals Invited To Master Life-Saving Skill: Perfect Penmanship

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Physicians, nurses, and others seeking a cure for careless cursive are invited to attend Rochester’s first handwriting course for medical professionals. The Rochester Health Commission’s community-wide Patient Safety Initiative and the University of Rochester Medical Center will host a continuing medical education seminar, "A Prescription for Handwriting Success," on Thursday, May 15 from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. at the Arthur Kornberg Medical Research Building at the Medical Center.

Handwriting professionals who specialize in retraining physicians to improve legibility will lead the course. Inga Dubay and Barbara Getty, co-authors of the Getty-Dubay Italic Handwriting Series, Italic Letters: Calligraphy and Handwriting and Write Now: A Complete Self-teaching Program for Better Handwriting, have provided seminars at some of the nation’s top medical centers.

Dubay and Getty teach a form of writing known as italic, which differs from the looped cursive style many were taught as youngsters. "Using traditional cursive, it’s easy for loops to become entangled and for letters to become confusing – especially if the writer is rushed."

"It’s not that physicians’ handwriting is any worse than the average person’s script," said Getty, a former elementary school teacher. "But in their case, written documentation is absolutely critical. Clarity could make the ultimate difference for patients."

"While it’s been the topic of jokes for years, poor handwriting is one of the most serious patient safety problems," said Raymond J. Mayewski, M.D., chief medical officer at Strong Memorial Hospital and Medical Director for Clinical Services at the Medical Center. "Even in cases where the error is caught, extra phone calls are needed to clarify the doctor’s intent – and that takes time away from other patient care activities."

In its landmark report, To Err is Human, the Institute of Medicine found that errors, including written miscommunication between doctors and other health care providers, might kill up to 98,000 people a year. The problem is so prevalent that the American Medical Association has been active in encouraging doctors to improve their handwriting and add the purpose for ordering the medication to all prescriptions.

After attending the seminar, participants should be able to:

  • Improve handwriting skills both immediately and over a few weeks’ time.
  • Reduce the number of extra phone calls from health professionals who need clarification of handwriting.
  • Better protect patients from receiving wrong medications or treatments due to poor handwriting.
  • Use improved handwriting for both professional and personal needs.

The Rochester Health Commission, as part of a series of initiatives that sprang from its 2000 Health Care Forum, convened teams of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, health care administrators and consumers from throughout the area to begin studying ways of reducing medical errors and improving patient safety. Given the complexity of the task, the team developed sub-groups charged with studying various aspects of the problem and developing improvements. According to Robert Panzer, M.D., chief quality officer at Strong Memorial Hospital and the Medical Center, and chair of the Commission’s group on patient safety initiatives, teams so far have put in place community-wide standards on the use of blood thinning drugs, have developed a safety tip sheet for consumers, and have developed a medication list form that can be used by both patients and their providers.

The handwriting course is the next step in the community effort to eliminate preventable errors. "Compared to moving health care information completely to computers, it’s a simple step but one that make a huge difference," Panzer said. "There’s no question that legible prescriptions and medical records can make the difference between life and death."

Those interested in registering for the course should contact Judy Hughes at the University of Rochester Medical Center at 275-7712 or by e-mail at

Media Contact

Teri D'Agostino

(585) 275-3676

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