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Lawmakers may prescribe penmanship for doctors

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March 13, 2003

TALLAHASSEE -- Attention, chicken-scratching doctors: Start writing those prescriptions so we can read them.

If you don't, you may soon be breaking the law.

The House Subcommittee on Health Standards took aim at doctors' sloppy penmanship Wednesday, unanimously approving a bill (HB 363) requiring that prescriptions be "legibly printed or typed."

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Shelly Vana, doesn't spell out any penalties for doctors who don't write neatly, leaving that to the medical disciplinary boards that oversee various types of doctors.

Rep. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, questioned whether the measure would accomplish much because it lacks a specific punishment.

"It was not my intent to have any kind of heavy punitive damages," said Vana, D-West Palm Beach. She said the measure would make it clear to disciplinary boards, however, that doctors who repeatedly write sloppy prescriptions should be sanctioned.

As weighty matters go, doctors' messy cursive may seem a trivial matter, but a lobbyist for the Walgreens drug chain said it's one of the biggest safety problems in medicine.

"The biggest fear we have is dispensing errors," said Michael Schwartz. He said pharmacists may give patients the wrong drug when they misread the doctor's script, and often have to waste time calling doctors to clarify a prescription.

Negron also questioned who might be the judge of good penmanship.

"What's legible to one pharmacist might not be to another," Negron said. "I would hate to see a doctor penalized because one pharmacist couldn't read what the rest of us could."

The bill now needs approval from the full House Health Care Committee and budget committees. A similar measure (SB 2084) is filed in the Senate.

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