Reputation and the legibility of doctors' handwriting in situ

Scott Med J. 2001 Jun;46(3):79-80. doi: 10.1177/003693300104600305.


The consequences of failed communication can be as disastrous and doctors have a reputation for illegibility. Previous research supports this opinion but little work has been done to assess doctors' legibility in situ. Our study evaluates if doctors deserve their reputation and investigates how legibility is affected by the time taken to write. Sets of in-patient hospital notes were selected at random. The first written entry by a doctor and a nurse in the current admission were analysed. In addition to this, 10 doctors and 10 nurses, unaware of the true nature of the study, wrote out lists of words and the time taken to do the task was recorded. The doctors' handwriting was significantly less legible (p = 0.010) and they wrote significantly quicker (p = 0.005). However a small minority of the doctors was responsible for the majority of illegible words written by that group.

MeSH terms

  • Handwriting*
  • Humans
  • Nurses
  • Physicians*
  • Random Allocation
  • Time and Motion Studies