Dangerous Abbreviations

The use of abbreviations is a “norm” in all healthcare settings. With the initiation of the Joint Commission National Patient Safety Goals, the emphasis on the dangers of specific abbreviations was highlighted. Although the problems with dangerous abbreviations have been noted for more than 25 years, organizations like the Joint Commission and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP)  have led initiatives to decrease the use of dangerous abbreviations.

Dangerous abbreviations include, but are not limited to, the following:

QD for once daily – This term can easily be mistaken for “QID” (4 times daily) or “QOD” (every other day). It is recommended that you write out “Daily”.

u  for “units” – This is often confused with a zero so “2u” (meaning 2 units) could be misinterpreted as 20.

µg for micrograms – the “mu” Greek letter l for “micro” makes the abbreviation easy to confuse with milligrams. It is recommended that you write out “micrograms”.

These are only a few of the more common dangerous abbreviations whose use is generally prohibited by the Joint Commission.

As we move to more electronic records in the hospital setting, the use of prohibited abbreviations may be declining; however prescriptions are written in many other settings – long-term care, office settings, clinics, etc., and dangerous abbreviations remain a risk in those settings. So remember to eliminate the use of these dangerous abbreviations, regardless of your clinical setting.