NEA-Retired member Kathleen Adams of Nebraska makes sure that doctors with poor penmanship dot every i and cross every t; Because when doctors scribble, Isordil can become Plendil, and that's a prescription for trouble.
After 29 years as an elementary teacher and reading specialist for the Omaha public schools, Adams jumped at the opportunity to help doctors prevent prescription errors when her former school superintendent, who also is the chairman of the board at the Children's Hospital, invited her to work with them.
"If a physician's writing is illegible, people can die," says Dr. Stephen Lazoritz, one of Adams' pupils.
Twenty percent of medication errors are due to handwriting that is misread, he says, admitting that his own handwriting was very poor before working with Adams.
Rushing and jumbling print and cursive writing are common errors of Adams' students. She usually advises them to print because it's clearer.
Her lessons start with an analysis of the doctor's writing sample. Then, she circles areas that need improvement and watches the doctor write. She'll point out that the letter j needs to hang below the line and emphasizes the need to "make tall letters tall and small letters small."
In one extreme case, Adams could read only a few of 100 words a doctor wrote. After practicing Adams' methods, he improved so much she could read 96 words out of 100.
Adams is proud to use her teaching skills to help save lives.
"There's no lesson plan to follow, " she says. "I've done on-the-spot diagnosis from working with children needing remediation, so it comes naturally."
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Copyright National Education Association Mar 2003
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