the holistic radical

November 30, 2007

Need more reasons to hate Big Pharma?

Folks, 1. how about asking yourself if you really need a drug or 2. asking first if a non-invasive herb could do the job of a drug?

Or, change your diet and activity level–for free–so that you don’t get sick, and don’t need a doctor.

30-Nov-2007

Dear Cecil:

I recently heard a statistic on a radio talk show that in the U.S. alone there are over 7,000 deaths per year due to mistakes made by pharmacists because of the physicians’ illegible handwriting on the prescription! Can this be true? — Don Jones, Berea, Ohio

Cecil replies:

You’d almost hope so, Don, given that Time magazine saw fit to lead with it: “Doctors’ sloppy handwriting,” a January 2007 article begins, “kills more than 7,000 people annually.” (I’d bet Darvon to doughnuts that’s where the radio personality you heard saw it.) But the author may have had some difficulty deciphering his own notes: the actual stat alluded to — apparently from a 1998 Lancet paper via subsequent reports by the Institute of Medicine — is that each year 7,000 U.S. deaths result from all medication-related errors of any sort, inside and outside hospitals, and not just those tied to poor penmanship.

Which, of course, is still plenty to ponder while popping your next pill, and there’s more where that came from. Scanning an IOM report from last year we learn:

  • About 1,400 prescribing errors are made per every 1,000 hospital admissions (remember that a typical inpatient may receive 20-plus doses of meds daily), more than 100 of them serious.
  • Two leading studies of medication errors made by nursing home staff didn’t even include the most common mistake, administering drugs at the wrong time, and still found between 12 and 15 errors per 100 doses.
  • A 2003 study reported that nearly one in eight prescriptions phoned in to pharmacies contain misinformation, while estimates of pharmacists’ error rate in dispensing drugs range from under 2 percent up to nearly 24 percent. Even using the lowest figure, that’s more than 50 million mistakes a year nationwide.

(Anecdotal evidence break: My assistant Una says she gets the same six prescriptions filled monthly and guesses the pharmacy commits one serious screwup every other month — an 8 percent error rate on refills, for God’s sake.)

But whatever the incidence of medication errors (and more figures got thrown around last week following the heparin overdose reportedly given to Dennis Quaid’s infant twins), it’s hard to pin down the role of handwriting. One small-scale study from 2002 found that 15 percent of handwritten medical records at a Spanish hospital were unclear due to legibility problems (the surgeons’ notes were the worst), a 2001 British paper reported that more than 10 percent of handwritten prescriptions contained errors, and U.S. studies have found that 20 percent of prescriptions or more were unreadable or readable only with effort. Some experts estimate that maybe a quarter of medication errors are due to illegibility. But time-honored notions aside, comparative studies disagree over whether those who’ve earned an MD do tend to have worse handwriting than those who haven’t. Maybe it only seems that way when that little scrap of paper could determine whether you live or die.

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/071130.html

By the way, folks, don’t let this mass-media stuff about handwriting errors fool you into the propaganda that health records really need to be “computerized” and scannable and available everywhere, or even in a chip (or verichip), because suddenly doctors are just so stupid. There is a technology to get your records quickly from one doctor to another. It is called a fax machine. These medical errors are caused by overmedication just as much as handwriting flaws. Not to mention that the FDA takes bribes and approves drugs and foods that have not been fully tested and which are harmful (aspartame, vioxx, etc).

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