The Pattern of Abbreviation Use in Prescriptions: A Way Forward in Eliminating Error-Prone Abbreviations and Standardisation of Prescriptions
N.R. Samaranayake, P.R.L. Dabare, C.A. Wanigatunge and B.M.Y. Cheung
Affiliation: Department of Medical Education and Health Sciences, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka.
Introduction and Objectives: Inappropriate abbreviations used in prescriptions have led to medication errors.
We investigated the use of error-prone and other unapproved abbreviations in prescriptions, and assessed the attitudes of
pharmacists on this issue.
Methods: A reference list of error-prone abbreviations was developed. Prescriptions of outpatients and specialty clinic
patients in a teaching hospital in Sri Lanka were reviewed during one month. An interviewer administered questionnaire
was used to assess attitudes of pharmacists.
Results: 3370 drug items (989 prescriptions) were reviewed. The mean (standard deviation) number of abbreviations per
prescription was 5.9 (3.5). The error-prone abbreviations used in the hospital were, μg (microgram), mcg (microgram), u
(units), cc (cubic centimeter), OD (once a day), @ sign, d (days/daily), m (morning) and n (night), and among all
prescriptions reviewed, they were used at a rate of 17.4%, 0.1%, 1.9%, 0.2%, 0.2%, 4.9%, 23.5%, 4.4% and 15.8%
respectively. Among the 103 types of abbreviations observed, 71 were not standard acceptable abbreviations. Multiple
abbreviations were used to indicate a single drug item/ instruction (N = 7). The abbreviation ‘d’ was used to denote ‘daily’
as well as ‘days’. All pharmacists believed that using error-prone abbreviations will always (5.3%) or sometimes (94.7%)
lead to medication errors.
Conclusions: Error-prone abbreviations and many other unapproved abbreviations are frequently used in hospitals. There
is a need to educating health care professionals on this issue and introduce an in-house error-prone abbreviation list for
Keywords: 'Do Not Use' list, error-prone abbreviations, medication errors, prescriptions, Sri Lanka, unapproved abbreviations.
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