Will the Medical Council of India’s plan to ask doctors to prescribe in capital letters help decipher prescriptions?

The standing joke in medicine has to do with the doctor’s handwriting. There are honourable exceptions, of course, but the norm for someone signing up for MBBS seems to be to instantly get rid of any trace of decent handwriting and take to squiggles, that only a pharmacist can decipher.

Most often, prescriptions are hard to read. The names of drugs other than common paracetamols are almost alien to a lay person.

But illegible prescriptions might soon become a thing of the past, if the Medical Council of India’s plan to ask doctors to write prescriptions in capital letters materialises.

Most of the pharmacists get used to the writing style of doctors by experience. But there are times when they have difficulty in deciphering the letters, especially when they get prescriptions from new doctors.

N. Anandan, secretary of Tamil Nadu Chemists and Druggists Association says some brands have names similar to that of fast-moving brands with minor spelling changes. It is here that capital letters can help, he adds.

S.N. Narasingan, secretary of Association of Physicians of India-Chennai Chapter, says the move will help chemists understand better and avoid dispensing the wrong medicines. Some doctors insist that all that is needed is a legible prescription and capital letters are not always necessary.

A number of doctors have moved to printed prescriptions.

Others are sceptical as doctors are not used to writing in capital letters. “MCI could ask doctors to use capital letters when prescribing rarely used or life-saving drugs,” K. Prakasam, president of TN Medical Council adds.

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Then, there are the cases of ignoring the prescription completely and treating oneself, with the help of the pharmacist.

Commonly misused drugs are those for cold, anti-histamines, ‘morning after’ pills and for reduction of anxiety.

Though healthcare providers say they issue regular advisories on avoiding self-medication, shop assistants, who know the clients well, continue to sell drugs without a valid prescription.

T. Ilango, registrar of Tamil Nadu Pharmacy Council, says there is yet not enough awareness about this dangerous trend. While the council conducts regular educational programmes for pharmacists, the practice refuses to die down as not all pharmacies comply with the norm that drugs should be dispensed only with a prescription. “The customer gets angry when we tell them to return with a prescription. We advise our pharmacists to tell customers on medication for diabetes and BP to go for a check-up every three months,” he says.

Gynaecologist Hepzibha Kirubakaran, who sees at least two patients in a month with complications following consumption of ‘morning after’ drugs, blames the internet.

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