Does your pharmacist or doctor take shortcuts? Five medical abbreviations that can harm you.
The abbreviations used in medical care and pharmacy are the same abbreviations worldwide. The abbreviations are standardized, and have been for about 150 years. Most of them come from Latin words. Many medical abbreviations are often misinterpreted at the pharmacy.
Here are 5 medical abbreviations commonly confused at pharmacies:
- BT = Bedtime: Mistaken as "BID" (twice daily)
- IN = Intranasal: Mistaken as "IM" or "IV"
- HS = Half-strength: Mistaken as bedtime
- IU = International unit: Mistaken as "IV" (intravenous) or 10 (ten)
- QHS = Nightly at bedtime: Mistaken as "GHR" or every hour
Should Error-Prone Abbreviations be Stopped?
There has been a movement recently among some organizations like the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) and the Food & Drug Administration to eliminate medical abbreviations which are often misinterpreted at the pharmacy. The ISMP has compiled a list which is two pages long, detailing abbreviations of common error-prone abbreviations.
Medication errors are totally preventable.
Forcing medical terminology and abbreviations to be changed will not solve any of the core issues that cause medication errors. They are often misinterpretations of doctor's orders, or typos made when entering data into either the office, hospital or pharmacy computer systems. Registered pharmacists have a duty of care when filling prescriptions that include:
- checking closely before sending the information,
- calling the doctor's office to ask for clarification,
- looking at the drug,
- checking the patient's age, conditions and other medications, and cross-checking their drugs.
The simple fact is that more training and standardization would greatly reduce the amount of medication mistakes made. But humans make mistakes, and we are all at risk of prescription errors.
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