Safety and Quality > Medication Safety > Recommendations for terminology, abbreviations and symbols used in medicines documentation

Recommendations for terminology, abbreviations and symbols used in medicines documentation

Medication errors are one of the most commonly reported clinical incidents in acute health care settings and, while rates of serious harm are low, their prevalence is of concern particularly as many are preventable. One of the major causes of medication errors is the ongoing use of potentially dangerous abbreviations and dose expressions, with error-prone abbreviations being used in 8.4% of in-hospital handwritten medication orders.

An abbreviation, term or symbol used by a prescriber may mean something quite different to the person interpreting the medicine order. Abbreviations that appear unclear, ambiguous or incomplete may be misunderstood, and when combined with other words or numerals may appear as something altogether unintended. These terminologies are error‑prone and are a critical patient safety issue.

To eliminate the use of ambiguous error-prone terminology and promote patient safety, this document sets out principles for safe, clear and consistent terminology for medicines, and safe terms, abbreviations and dose designations for medicines.

Recommendations for terminology, abbreviations and symbols used in medicines documentation, December 2016 (PDF 323KB) (Word 832KB)

Summary sheet: Recommendations for terminology, abbreviations and symbols used in medicines documentation (PDF 249KB) (Word 296KB)