I don't pretend to be a doctor (and I don't play one on TV), so when I receive a prescription for some sort of medication, I don't even try to figure out what the handwriting says on the piece of paper that I hand to the pharmacist. Do pharmacists always know how to decipher that scripted garble? Not according to this recent news story: "Doctors urged to switch to e-prescriptions."
According to the article, "A new initiative aims to coax physicians and pharmacies to use a Web-based prescription system designed to prevent medication errors often caused by illegible handwriting. ... About a fifth of U.S. doctors currently prescribe drugs electronically, with the rest using pen and paper."
So, what are the stats that would convince doctors to make the technological shift? "...a 2006 Institute of Medicine report that found more than 7,000 people die and at least 1.5 million are harmed by preventable medication errors in the United States annually."
In fact, Dr. Nancy Dickey, president of the Texas A&M University Health Science Center, claims, "You would think if you were a pharmacist and you couldn't clearly read what I (as a doctor) had written, that you would simply pick up the phone and call. But it's astonishing how often they make their best guess."
I'm all about people getting their correct medication and decreasing the number of preventable medication errors. However, it makes me wonder how long it will take before everything is done electronically... can you imagine sending your doctor an e-mail with your symptoms, maybe a webcam photo or video for a visual of what's ailing you, and then you'd receive an e-prescription or confirmation of your e-prescription after it's sent to your specified pharmacy? That may seem ridiculous right now, but I seriously doubt we're too far away from this becoming a reality.
Sonja Thompson started at TechRepublic in October 1999. She is a former Senior Editor at TechRepublic.