Medical Abbreviations to Avoid

Physicians are famously known as having poor handwriting. The accuracy of that stereotype notwithstanding, clarity in the medical record is of obvious importance. Potentially deadly mistakes may result if instructions or information in the patient chart are unclear.

To improve accuracy and reduce the chance for harmful mistakes, The Joint Commission (formerly JCAHO) spearheaded an effort to create a list of abbreviations to avoid in medical practice. The official “Do Not Use” list can be found on The Joint Commission website. The list includes just over a dozen abbreviations, including either “U” or “u” for “unit,” as well as “Q.D.” (and variants) and “Q.O.D.” (and variants) to mean “every day” and “every other day,” respectively. Also covered is the proper use of zero (0) before and after decimal points.

The official “Do Not Use” list provides best practice alternatives to problem abbreviations, as well as several “suspect” abbreviations that are best avoided (such as “@”—which may be confused with the number “2”—to mean “at”).

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