Acronyms in healthcare

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Acronyms are very commonly used in healthcare settings.[1] They are formed from the lead letters of words relating to medications, organisations, procedures and diagnoses.[2] They come from both English and Latin roots.[2][3] Acronyms have been described as jargon.[1] and their use has been shown to impact the safety of patients in hospitals, owing to ambiguity and legibility.[4]


Acronyms in healthcare are formed from the lead letters of words relating to medications, organisations, procedures and diagnoses.[2] They come from both English and Latin roots.[2][3] The use of acronyms and abbreviations is expanding rapidly.[5][6]


Acronyms have been described as jargon.[1][citation needed] Studies have been conducted investigating the effect of acronyms on communication and in some studies even healthcare professionals are unclear as to the meaning of many acronyms.[7] The use of acronyms to describe medical trials has been criticised as potentially leading to incorrect assumptions based on similar acronyms, difficulty accessing trial results when common words are used, and causing a cognitive bias when positive acronyms are used to portray trials (e.g. "HOPE" or "SMART").[8]

Use of abbreviations, such as those relating to the route of administration or dose of a medication can be confusing and is the most common source of medication errors.[2] Use of some acronyms has been shown to impact upon the safety of patients in hospitals, and "do not use lists" have been published at national level in the US.[4]


A number of sources provide lists of initialisms and acronyms commonly used in health care. The terms listed are used in the English language within the health care systems and by healthcare professionals of various countries.[3] Examples of terms include BP, COPD, TIMI score, and SOAP. There is no standardised list.[3]

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  1. ^ a b c Healthcare, Guardian (22 August 2011). "Glossary of healthcare jargon and acronyms". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e Australian Commission on Safety and Quality of Healthcare. "Recommendations for Terminology, Abbreviations and Symbols used in the PRescribing and Administration of Medicines" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 March 2016. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d "List of Common Medical Abbreviations, Acronyms & Definitions". MedicineNet. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  4. ^ a b Glassman, Peter. The Joint Commission's "Do Not Use" List: Brief Review (NEW). Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US).
  5. ^ Moon, Sungrim; Pakhomov, Serguei; Liu, Nathan; Ryan, James O; Melton, Genevieve B (1 March 2014). "A sense inventory for clinical abbreviations and acronyms created using clinical notes and medical dictionary resources". Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. 21 (2): 299–307. doi:10.1136/amiajnl-2012-001506. PMC 3932450. PMID 23813539.
  6. ^ Pottegard, A.; Haastrup, M. B.; Stage, T. B.; Hansen, M. R.; Larsen, K. S.; Meegaard, P. M.; Meegaard, L. H. V.; Horneberg, H.; Gils, C.; Dideriksen, D.; Aagaard, L.; Almarsdottir, A. B.; Hallas, J.; Damkier, P. (16 December 2014). "SearCh for humourIstic and Extravagant acroNyms and Thoroughly Inappropriate names For Important Clinical trials (SCIENTIFIC): qualitative and quantitative systematic study". BMJ. 349 (dec16 13): g7092–g7092. doi:10.1136/bmj.g7092. PMC 4267482. PMID 25516539.
  7. ^ Sinha, S.; McDermott, F.; Srinivas, G.; Houghton, P. W. J. (1 April 2011). "Use of abbreviations by healthcare professionals: what is the way forward?". Postgraduate Medical Journal. 87 (1029): 450–452. doi:10.1136/pgmj.2010.097394.
  8. ^ Fred, Herbert L.; Cheng, Tsung O. (2003). "Acronymesis". Texas Heart Institute Journal. 30 (4): 255–257. ISSN 0730-2347. PMC 307708. PMID 14677733.

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