Griffonage, or poor handwriting, by doctors may be responsible for 7,000 deaths every year.
By Vidya Hattangadi
Griffonage means carelessly written inscription—crude or illegible scrawl. There are millions of people who don’t seem to bother whether their notes, writings can be read by others or not. These include students, doctors, lawyers, architects and others. Poor handwriting has pitiable rhythm and many inconsistencies. It can appear as crow’s legs, weeds, slanting sticks—in short, poor or illegible handwriting gives rise to headache for the reader. Examiners usually tend to become unsympathetic towards scribbled answer sheets. People with poor handwriting always find themselves having to make an apology.
A universal problem is reading doctors’ prescriptions. The best part is that it’s only the chemist who can read such prescriptions. The primary reason given for this is that doctors have to write a lot, and fast. Their business is largely volume-driven, and they say that it is taxing for them to write so many notes in case papers and prescriptions. The second reason perhaps could be that in medical practice nobody forces them to write legibly. Some doctors see 100-200 patients a day, they run from one clinic to another, at times seeing patients for more than 12 hours.
I think writing badly for a doctor is a matter of survival. One of the articles in 2018 by Dr Santosh K Chaturvedi, dean, Behavioural Sciences and Department of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, titled “What’s wrong with doctors’ handwriting” states that bad handwriting by doctors is responsible for 7,000 deaths every year.
The latest barrage from the Medical Council of India insisting on legible handwriting of doctors is admirable, though much delayed. This directive is expected to reduce the number of potential medical errors that occur due to illegible handwriting and spelling mistakes. Poor handwriting undoubtedly contributes to a high incidence of medical errors. In Britain, medical errors were estimated to cause deaths of up to 30,000 people per year, and in the US up to 100,000 per year. Another author has cautioned that illegible handwriting in prescriptions may lead to fatal consequences and is a leading cause of medication error. How many such errors happen in India, where English is not the primary language of doctors, is anybody’s guess. How many such medical errors were due to illegible or wrongly spelt prescriptions is also not known.
The problem for doctors is the volume of paperwork that needs to be done for each patient. For legal reasons, everything done, found or instructed has to be documented prior to patient discharge. Doctors and their assistants are, therefore, busy finishing the paperwork.
Graphology, which means handwriting analysis, suggests that ugly handwriting indicates a certain amount of emotional baggage. Many horrible writers tend to be psychologically unstable—even bad tempered. But this analysis does not go well with doctors, lawyers and other high-end professionals. If a writer decides to start writing in legible hand, he/she must buy a good ballpoint or roller-ball pen and start making an effort—choose a pen that’s comfortable to hold, and has a smooth ink-flow without having to push too hard on the paper. In handwriting, a low self-image is revealed by the size of capital letters and personal pronoun ‘I’, signature and, most importantly, by the low T-bar. Such a writer hardly finds good qualities in himself/herself, and is always self-critical, which degrades his/her sense of personal value.
Writing is not an easy skill. It requires the ability to organise and express ideas in the mind. It also requires the ability to get the muscles in the hands and fingers to form those ideas, letter by letter, on paper. Please think of so many people who must be having a tough time reading your handwritten notes, letters and postal addresses. When a sorting machine discovers an illegible address in a post office, what do postal employees do? What can the postman do? He tries his level best to deliver it to the right address, but if the handwriting is terrible it can go to a wrong address.
While the principles behind graphology may seem overtly obvious, and the field is often dismissed as pseudoscience, believers suggest that handwriting analysis can even provide a glimpse into critical medical issues. Writing with varying pressure can be an indicator of high blood pressure, for instance, and erratically slanted letters can be a symptom of schizophrenia.
If you observe schoolchildren, you may find 10-15% of them suffering from poor self-confidence, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder. One such condition (dyslexia) that is brilliantly brought out in Hindi film ‘Taare Zameen Par’ by Aamir Khan primarily affects reading and dysgraphia, which impacts writing, spelling and speaking. Kids may find it hard to segregate sounds, match sounds to letters, or blend sounds into words. So, teachers must know how to spot early problems in a child’s handwriting. In fact, handwriting that is labelled messy or lazy by teachers can often contribute to a child’s basic problem to understand phonetic letters. This may lead a child to believe that he/she is dim-witted.
Before I finish, handwriting is very personal. It is an expression of a person’s identity, like how he/she dresses or styles hair. Handwriting changes from childhood to adulthood at various stages in life. Adopt a particular style of handwriting to suit your personal image. Invest time and energy in your handwriting—it’s worth the effort.
The author is a management thinker and blogger