Legibility: 20 Years in the Making

Gienna Shaw, June 21, 2011

You know those people who say they'd miss having ink stains on their fingers from reading print newspapers? Or who say the experience of reading a book on a Kindle, Nook, or similar device just isn't the same as opening up a paper book? Well, there's a part of me that agrees with them. But there's a part of me that also thinks they're full of it.

And as soon as someone gives me a free e-reader or iPad, I'll let you know whether or not I'm right about that.

Something similar is happening with physicians across the country. Docs complain that they have to enter information into the computer. They rail against change and moan about workflow and claim they have no idea what buttons to push to pull up their patients' electronic medical record.

But once they start using electronic documentation and have had enough time to see the benefits, suddenly they'd never go back to paper records.

"I used to hate doing discharge summaries," says John Umekubo, MD, medical director of clinical informatics at St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco. "Now I don't mind it because it's so fast and I think I'm doing a good job. I'll never go back to handwriting. It's just too painful. I think that's universal—people who have converted to electronic will never go back to handwriting."

St. Mary's has employed a number of solutions to address its handwriting legibility issues since 1990, when they were cited by the Joint Commission for it. And, yes, they started with good old paper.

It didn't work out very well.

The organization identified the worst handwriting offenders and asking them to print their notes in block letters. Have you ever tried to write anything in block letters other than the words "YARD SALE"? There's a reason busy docs scribble in cursive—it's a lot faster than printing, let alone block printing.

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