n South African Law Journal - Bad handwriting and medication errors

Volume 124, Issue 4
  • ISSN : 0258-2503
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2177



Illegible prescriptions issued by medical practitioners are an age-old, worldwide problem. The prescription is both a professional and a legal instrument authorizing the pharmacist or nurse to compound, dispense or administer a therapeutic agent. The precision and legibility of the prescription determine how effectively the prescriber's instructions will be carried out. Research indicates that illegible prescriptions constitute one of the main causes of medication errors. This contribution examines the problem in comparative perspective, and examples of bad handwriting leading to serious consequences and even death are discussed. The article suggests that the easy solution of holding liable only the last practitioner in the causal chain is not appropriate, and that the various role-players should rather be regarded as joint wrongdoers, with the court taking into account whether gross negligence or even dolus eventualis existed on the part of the prescriber. It is clear that the standard of prescription-writing ought to be improved and the law should ensure compliance with and the enforcement of this duty.

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