Law Bans Rxs Written in Cursive

SEPTEMBER 01, 2006

A new law prohibits health care providers in Washington State from writing prescriptions in cursive.The law, which went into effect in June, requires that all prescriptions be hand-printed, typewritten, or electronically generated. The newly passed law does not bar pharmacies from accepting oral or faxed medication orders or prescriptions. A legible prescription is defined as a medication order that can be read and understood by the pharmacist, nurse, or practitioner who must dispense it.

"Until electronic prescribing tools are common to clinicians, a legibly written prescription may be one of the most important communications related to patient safety and reducing medication errors," said Steve Saxe, executive director of the Washington Board of Pharmacy. "This law is good for providers, pharmacists, and consumers."

William Robertson, MD, medical director of the Washington Poison Center, said he is willing to accept blame for this bill if health care providers are upset. He said it has taken him 27 years to make illegible prescriptions illegal. Unreadable prescriptions are a problem across the country. Oftentimes, pharmacists have to take time away from patients and their busy pharmacy to call physicians' offices to get patients' names, dosage requirements, and addresses.

Dr. Robertson said random samples of 6000 prescriptions were collected throughout Washington with help from the state's Board of Pharmacy. When pharmacists and other health care professionals tested the samples, they found 24% to 32% illegible.