Medical abbreviations are generally used to boost efficiency in medicine. It is important that these abbreviations are used intelligently to ensure that they convey information in a much easier way (ISMP, 2004). In some cases the use of brevity can result to distorted meanings. It is prudent that medical abbreviations that do not meet these conditions should be avoided.Similarity and ambiguity in medical abbreviations makes it difficult to use them without creating errors. Some physicians have argued that elimination of these abbreviations would prevent errors in medication (ISMP, 2004). However, elimination of medical abbreviations would force physicians to write out long medical terms.Several organizations have developed policies that outline which abbreviations should be avoided. Serious medication errors may arise from use of inappropriate medical abbreviations for drug names during prescriptions. Patients could receive unintended medication which could be detrimental to their health.Due to similarities and ambiguity in medical abbreviations it is prudent that policies are developed by organization to avoid the use of various ambiguous abbreviations.
Abbreviation/ Dose ExpressionIntended MeaningMisinterpretationMagnesium SulfateMistaken for Morphine Sulfate(MSO4)Write out magnesiumMorphine SulfateMistaken for Magnesium Sulfate(MgSO4)Write out MorphineIn addition to similarities and ambiguity some errors simply arise from writing illegibly. Hence it is also important that physician prioritize legible writing. Policies recommend safer alternatives to ambiguous symbols. These alternatives should be widely known among the staff. The staff should familiarize with these abbreviations including internal communications, telephone /verbal prescription, computer generated labels for drug storage bins/shelves., medications administration records as well as pharmacy and prescriber computer order entry screens. The ultimate purpose of using coordinated abbreviations is to protect patients from erroneous prescriptions. These policies should list the common errors that are often committed within the medical domain. These policies should then show the likely consequences that may arise from these errors. Then the policies should include the alternative terms that should be applied to check the anomaly.The joint commission after the November 2004 summit developed the do not use list of medical abbreviation s and received positive comments regarding this attempt. The "do not use" list of abbreviations is a simple table that show the errors that are likely to be committed through the use of medical abbreviation while at the same time providing viable alternatives (Joint commission, 2009). This list of abbreviations is accredited for use in handwritten as well as printed forms. The new abbreviations to be used should be implemented at the soonest time possible. The previous discarded abbreviations should be eliminated for all printed lists and books. The new list should be printed and provided to the staff at all relevant. Monthly reminders to relevant people should be done monthly to ensure that this list is not forgotten (Joint commission,2009). Through the use of these practices physicians can benefit from reduced error levels.
The application and use of these abbreviations has been widely adopted but has not been done universally. Bodies such as the joint commission and NGOs such as the institute of safe medical practices have developed policies that govern the use of abbreviations. A universal approach of the same would assist the medical fraternity use similar list of abbreviationsThe use of abbreviations helps physician use short, precise and understandable short-forms to pass on information. This enables the use of short form instead of potentially long statements. The use of brevity has however resulted to erroneous misinterpretation of the underlying meaning. This has resulted in erroneous prescriptions. Correction of these errors will better the use of abbreviations.