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Customer Experience and Design

Medical Abbreviations and the Official Do Not Use List

The above video clip, from the medical drama “Strong Medicine,” is loaded with medical abbreviations. BP, CBC, PT, PTT, EKG, and my favorite one: “stat.” Fun fact: the word “stat” is an abbreviation of the Latin word statim, which means “immediately.”

Medical abbreviations and acronyms are deeply integrated into the workflows of healthcare practitioners, so it’s not surprising that the Wikipedia entry for medical abbreviations contains over 1,700 entries, and many of these have multiple meanings that are completely different from each other. Everything gets even more complex when the abbreviations get written down, especially when the people doing the writing are notorious for having less-than-perfect penmanship. When trying to interpret a handwritten note that is loaded abbreviations that themselves have to be deciphered, it’s easy to see how an order can be misinterpreted, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

In an effort to reduce confusion, in 2004 the Joint Commission (a private, non-profit organization that accredits healthcare organizations in the United States) released its Official Do Not Use List of abbreviations that accredited organizations are not allowed to use. Pictured below is the Official Do Not Use List, as it stands today:

The list has not been changed since its 2004 release, but there is an additional group of abbreviations that are under consideration for being added to the Official List. While accredited organizations may still use these abbreviations, it seems wise to avoid using them, as it is easy to see how their use could be confusing. These abbreviations are shown below.

While healthcare IT applications do not suffer from the same legibility issues as a hastily written note from a physician, healthcare IT developers can support their clients’ efforts to improve communication by avoiding the abbreviations listed above in healthcare IT applications.

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Christopher Monnier

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