A Dartmouth, N.S., nurse has been reprimanded for his illegible handwriting, a problem some health-care workers say is made worse by modern communications.
Earlier this month, the complaints committee of the College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia imposed conditions on the nurse's licence of Wilfred Douglas Gordon and ordered him to successfully complete a documentation course approved by the college.
For six months, the nurse's handwriting on patients' charts must also be reviewed on a monthly basis by his nurse manager for legibility.
"The committee found that Mr. Gordon's handwriting was so incomprehensible that it was ineffective as a communication tool and, even more concerning, potentially misleading to those reading it," the committee wrote.
"The committee was also concerned that despite being aware of the illegibility of his handwriting for many years, Mr. Gordon had not successfully addressed the issue."
Dr. Jock Murray, who practised medicine for 47 years including time in Halifax, said he's proud of his handwriting but understands he may be the exception to the rule.
"People have complained about the quality of the doctor's prescription for a century," he told CBC News on Wednesday.
"It was first based on the fact that they were written in Latin so people couldn't actually read it, and the last half-century it's more about the quality of the doctor's writing."
Murray said modern communication methods have made things even worse.
"The younger generation now of physicians often use a lot of abbreviations and they're getting that from how they use Twitter and Facebook or whatever and those aren't always consistent," he said.
The Capital District Health Authority — the health authority of the nurse who was reprimanded — said it's working to convert to an electronic health record by 2013. The hospitals will give doctors and nurses tablets at the bedside to eliminate the need for handwriting altogether.
"I think we're all a little guilty of not spending enough time on our handwriting sometimes," said Dr. Jane Brooks, the president of Doctors Nova Scotia.
"There are mechanisms within the electronic medical records for maintaining that patient safety."