Abbreviations and Acronyms in the Healthcare Industry
The use of abbreviations and acronyms in healthcare has become an international patient safety issue. Common problems include ambiguous, unfamiliar, and look-alike abbreviations and acronyms leading to misinterpretation and medical errors. The patient’s safety is a common goal in every healthcare institution. One of the major issues in a patient safety is an error that can be caused by an abbreviation. The most common is medication errors. One of the most common but preventable causes of medication errors is the use of ambiguous medical notations. Some abbreviations, symbols, and dose designations are frequently misinterpreted and lead to mistakes that result in patient harm. They can also delay the start of therapy and waste time spent in clarification.
Patient safety and promotion of zero medication error are common goals in every healthcare institution, thus eliminating abbreviations can reduce life-threatening medical errors, and medication errors is the most frequent problem. A nurse administering the wrong dosage to a patient if the physician’s handwritten abbreviations are not clear can be lethal. As well, when a patient is transferred from one care provider to another, if the medical records are written with abbreviations this could lead to tragic results. Thus providing clear, communication, unabbreviated prescribed prescriptions, reports, and records would greatly reduce medical errors. However eliminating all medical abbreviations would reduce errors but if abbreviations were eliminated it would make it very difficult on medical professionals who would have to write out very lengthy medical terms. According to Dr. Darryl S. Rich, “to minimize the potential for error and to maximize patient safety, prescribers need to avoid such specifically dangerous abbreviations and phrases.” (www.jointcommission.org/SentinelEvents/SentinelEventAlert/sea_23.htm) A reality of healthcare today is the specialized nature of individual services and disciplines. A study in the United Kingdom examined physicians' understanding of Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) surgical abbreviations (Das-Purkayastha, McLeod, & Canter, 2004). Physicians-in-training who rotated among specialties, but were not familiar with otolaryngology, completed a questionnaire to determine knowledge of their specialized abbreviations. Six of the 13 commonly used abbreviations were unclear to 90% of these doctors in other specialties. This has similar implications for nurses floating from one unit to another. What is obvious to one specialty may be obscure to another. House staff travel also among various institutions in the same city or region and may leave a legacy of new and unfamiliar abbreviations for the next generation to decipher (Calfee, 1997). They also may be interpreted based on knowledge gained in another specialty, therefore qualifying them as ambiguous. Using a global example, many abbreviations used in the United Kingdom routinely, for example CP for Crystalline Penicillin, would take on other meanings in the United States. Cheng (1999) suggests that the use of acronyms has become such a competitive game that the clinical trial may be named to match a clever acronym already created. Q2
The JCAHO (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations) has recently mandated the accredited organizations to develop and enforce a sure list. Many organizations are developing written policies stating which abbreviations should not be used and medical professionals are trained to write legible when using other abbreviations. The Joint Commission has come up with a do not use list. (www.jointcommission.org/PatientSafety/DoNotUseList) JCAHO provides institutions with a list of dangerous abbreviations that should be avoided in clinical documentation. Moreover, the Institute for Safe Medication Practice also promotes the consistent application of not using...
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