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Use of abbreviations by healthcare professionals: what is the way forward?
  1. S Sinha,
  2. F McDermott,
  3. G Srinivas,
  4. P W J Houghton
  1. Department of Surgery, Torbay Hospital, Torquay, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr S Sinha, Department of Surgery, Torbay Hospital, Torquay TQ2 7AA, UK; sinhasurajit{at}hotmail.com

Abstract

Objective To assess the understanding of commonly used abbreviations in the medical records among healthcare professionals.

Methods A selection of abbreviations from surgical inpatient admissions (gathered over a 10 day period in October 2008), in the form of a standard questionnaire, was shown to different members of a multidisciplinary team to examine interpretation and knowledge.

Results 209 questionnaires were analysed. The average correct response was 43%. Foundation Year 1 (F1) doctors scored the highest with 57% correct responses, whereas dieticians fared worst (20% correct). Among different abbreviations, NAD (91%) and SCBU (93%) were most often correctly answered, whereas CIC (3%) and STS (0.5%) were the most incorrectly answered. Certain abbreviations which are mostly used by nurses (eg, OTT) achieved a 75% correct response by them compared to only 11% by F1 and 10% by F2 doctors (p<0.001). Similarly, abbreviations such as COBH (p=0.025) and LUTS (p<0.001), although mostly correctly answered by junior doctors, were very poorly answered by nurses.

Conclusion The majority of healthcare professionals have a very poor knowledge of commonly used abbreviations. Use of unambiguous and approved list of abbreviations is suggested in order to ensure good communication in patient care.

  • Abbreviations
  • acronym
  • short form
  • general medicine (see internal medicine)
  • health & safety

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Footnotes

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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