Article Text

Download PDFPDF
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}


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

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Competing interests None.

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