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Sunday 20th May 2018

Abbreviations 'risk' to patients

7th January 2008

The Medical Defence Union has said doctors could be "putting patients lives at risk" by the use of abbreviations in patient records.


The Union warned that abbreviations can cause confusion because of dual meanings and can also be misinterpreted. It said that there were cases in which patients had been administered fatal doses of drugs or had healthy limbs amputated.

Frequent mistakes involved the abbreviation of drug names and amounts. An example given was the case of a 62-year-old patient who died after treatment with the drug acyclovir. The patient's notes were misread and the drug was given three times daily, causing death.

An audit by Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood last year, revealed that use of abbreviations could cause problems because of "multiple interpretations".

The study discovered that paediatric doctors made the same interpretation of 56-94% of abbreviations. Other health workers recognised 31-63%.

The MDU said doctors should use abbreviations which were "unambiguous and approved" in the places in which they worked.

Dr Sally Old, MDU medico-legal adviser, said: "Abbreviations can cause confusion and risk patient safety." She added that clarity was very important, especially when care was provided by a team of people.

Kevin Cleary, of the National Patient Safety Agency, said: "Abbreviations in clinical notes, prescriptions and treatment charts should be kept to an absolute minimum. They cause confusion and present a risk to patients."



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Malcolm Cole

Thursday 10th January 2008 @ 16:35

I always see the same doctor and nurses for cancer treatment, giving me confidence that everyone knows both me and what they are doing. On other NHS wards I am on a conveyor belt with four transfers in 6 days.
I never saw the same doctor or nurse twice. I cannot see this method is more efficient, and could be a major factor in your abbreviation problem!

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