Abbreviation error Essay

Death and dying are two relatively different concepts that are sometimes hard to grasp. Maybe it’s because of the fact that they affect us more than we could possibly ever imagine, and acceptance does not come easily for a good number of us. When a family member is dying, there is a big chance of trying to tie loose ends, especially when the patient is still conscious. It would not be easier, but at least there will be time for goodbyes. Death that is sudden is harder to accept. Most especially when this death is a part of the 44,000 to 98,000 medication error caused death experienced in the United States annually (Bond, Raehl, and Franke).

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Medication errors that have caused death have been studied in depth, and the researches showed that majority of these errors can be avoided. In lieu with this, one cause of these rampant medication errors is the use of abbreviations. Abbreviations in medication orders have caused 7,000 deaths per year, according to Brunetti et al (Brunetti, Santell, and Hicks). Knowing that these errors can be avoided can change the lives of those yet to be hospitalized and serve justice to those who were victims of errors.

Abbreviations are being utilized, not only in the hospital or clinical setting, but in various offices and institutions as well. The use of these abbreviations were supposed to make the work load easier, accounting for the shorter time needed to document long, wordy sentences or lengthy instructions. It is most helpful in the hospital setting because of the work load of the medical staff and the many number of patients that the staff gets to interact everyday. Abbreviations are used by the physician in writing prescriptions and in the patient’s chart, writing doctor’s orders. Also, the nursing staff in documenting patient progress utilizes abbreviations. Studies showed that the medical staff were the ones who are committing majority of the abbreviation errors, with almost a 50 percent difference to the next which are the nursing staff, followed by the pharmaceutical team, and finally other health care providers and even non–health care providers (Brunetti, Santell, and Hicks).

Unfortunately, because of the rushed and heavy duties and responsibilities, it may not be possible for the staff to clear up some unreadable or unclear penmanship issues encountered. The Joint Commission holds the illegibility or confusing handwriting by clinicians and the failure of health care providers to communicate clearly with one another, accountable for the commitment of these abbreviation errors (“Medication errors related to potentially dangerous abbreviations”). According to Brunetti et al, the majority of errors incurred were for prescribing, next is in giving the improper dose, and lastly in incorrectly preparing medications (Brunetti, Santell, and Hicks). Because of the increasing committed errors with the use of abbreviation, there will definitely be a reduction in medication errors if abbreviations were not used.

Written policies should be developed by the usage of abbreviation in the health care setting. The policy should contain the abbreviations which are commonly a cause of error and that these should not be used and a policy that asserts that if an unacceptable abbreviation is used, the prescription order should be verified with the staff member who prescribed prior to its being filled (“Medication errors related to potentially dangerous abbreviations”). The staff working in hospitals is dealing with people’s lives and certainly abbreviation error-caused deaths are simply unprofessional and an unaccepted act for these professionals.

The Joint Commission and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices have been endorsing several risk reduction strategies for health care personnel to adapt and implement in the hopes of reducing abbreviation related errors that can cause fatalities. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices has printed out a list of the error-prone abbreviations and has advised the health care staff not to use it (ISMP’s List of Error-Prone Abbreviations, Symbols, and Dose Designations”). Examples are the use of U for “unit” which is commonly mistaken for zero, four or cc; QD which means “daily” is mistaken for QID, etc (ISMP’s List of Error-Prone Abbreviations, Symbols, and Dose Designations”).

However, with this list available for the health care workers, abbreviations should still be used, with caution and under the implementation of certain risk reducing strategies. Also, these should only be used by professionals and only under certain circumstances. The heath care team should also strictly follow and implement the risk reduction strategies suggested by the Joint Commission and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP). Medication reconciliation is asserted by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement as a key initiative in reducing abbreviation – error caused deaths (“Using medication reconciliation to prevent errors”).

According to the Joint Commission, medication reconciliation is the process of comparing a patient’s medication orders to all of the medications that the patient has been taking, in hopes to avoid errors (“Using medication reconciliation to prevent errors”). Other strategies include collecting a complete list of current medications for each patient on admission and validating it with the patient, reconciling medications within a specific time, adopting the same form to use for gathering the home medication list and for reconciling, developing policies and procedures for each step in the reconciliation process, among many others (“Using medication reconciliation to prevent errors”).

These reduction strategies are simply made and planned out for the health care team to follow. However, there are very little institutions like the Joint Commission and the ISMP can do. The eventual decrease in the abbreviation errors are still in the hands of those who commit it. They are the only one’s who can make a difference, with or without the reduction strategies. If everyone will be accountable, do their tasks like professionals and bear in mind that the person who is about to receive the care is another person’s loved one, then maybe, these errors can be eradicated.

Works Cited:

Brunetti, L., John Santell, and Rodney Hicks. “The Impact of Abbreviations on Patient Safety.” The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety Sep 2007 26 Oct 2008 .

Bond, C., Cynthia Raehl, and Todd Franke. “Medication Errors in United States Hospitals.” Pharmacotherapy 2001 1023-1036. 26 Oct 2008.

Institute for Safe Medication Practices , “ISMP’s List of Error-Prone Abbreviations, Symbols, and Dose Designations.” Institute for Safe Medication Practices . 2007. Institute for Safe Medication Practices . 27 Oct 2008 <>.

The Joint Commission, “Medication errors related to potentially dangerous abbreviations.” The Joint Commission. 21 September 2001. The Joint Commission. 27 Oct 2008 <>.

The Joint Commission, “Using medication reconciliation to prevent errors.” The Joint Commission. 2006. The Joint Commission. 27 Oct 2008 <>.

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