Study proves danger of abbreviations

Abbreviations in health care may be efficient, but their use comes at the expense of patient safety, according to a new study published in the September 2007 issue of Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety. The findings of this study provide further support for The Joint Commission's "do not use" list of abbreviations that is part of its National Patient Safety Goals. The study also suggests the need to consider additions to the "do not use" list.

Although abbreviations are known causes of medication errors, the study, "The Impact of Abbreviations on Patient Safety," is the first to examine the exact characterization and impact of these errors. The study collected and analyzed data through a retrospective review of errors resulting from abbreviations as reported to the United States Pharmacopeia's Medmarx, a national database for medication errors, from 2004 through 2006.

The study found that nearly 5% of all errors reported to Medmarx during this time period were attributable to abbreviations. This analysis of nearly 30,000 medication error reports involving abbreviations suggests that health care organizations should consider additions to the "do not use" list. Candidates for an expanded list include drug name abbreviations (for example, PCN, DCN, TCN), stem abbreviations (amps, nitro, succs), µg (mcg), cc (mL), and dose scheduling (BID, TID, QID), according to the authors.


1. Brunetti, L, Santell JP, Hicks RW. "The impact of abbreviations on patient safety." Joint Commission on Quality and Patient Safety. September 2007. Vol. 33: 576-583.