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Confusing Medical Terminology Can Increase Risk Of Medical Errors

When a doctor is talking to a patient, it may sound like the doctor is speaking another language. Medical terminology, treatments, medications, and diseases may have scientific terms and common language terms. Sometimes doctors are not concerned with making sure the patient really understands what they are saying, which can lead to errors and medical mistakes

Plain Language in Health Care

According to the federal government’s Plain Language Action and Information Network, health literacy is the ability to understand and communicate health information. Health literacy is important to help individuals obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services necessary to make appropriate health decisions. 

In order to make an informed decision about healthcare services and treatments, the patient should have a clear and correct understanding of healthcare information, their medical conditions and illness, what the patient needs to do, and why it is important for their overall care. Plain language makes it easier for patients and doctors to understand and use health information.

Inappropriate Medical Abbreviations

Over the past few decades, the healthcare industry has moved away from inappropriate or confusing medical abbreviations. Doctors often use abbreviations or shorthand to save time during surgical procedures, emergency rooms, and when discharging patients. However, abbreviations have not historically been regulated and there may be abbreviations that can stand for multiple things or be open to interpretation. 

The US Institute of Safe Medication Practices has received many reports of medical errors and mistakes caused by misinterpretation of medical abbreviations. Despite the dangers of using medical abbreviations, doctors continue the practice. 

One of the most common medical abbreviation errors includes the use of “q.d” for “once daily.” Q.D. can be mistaken for q.i.d., meaning 4 times daily. This mistake could cause a patient to take 4 times the recommended dose in one day, potentially causing injury or serious harm. Similarly, Q.O.D. means every other day which could also be confused with Q.D. or Q.I.D.

I.U. is a term for international unit but can be confused with I.V. for intravenous. Another common mistake involves the use of a decimal. A prescription for .5 could be read as 5 if the decimal is not seen. To remedy this, doctors should put a zero before the decimal, as 0.5.

Another of the most common problems involves using drug name abbreviations. There are hundreds of drug names that already sound or look similar, even when completely spelled out. Abbreviating the names of the drugs can cause a dangerous mix-up putting the patient at risk of serious harm. For example, MS or MS04 can be interpreted as morphine sulfate or magnesium sulfate, which are very different substances. 

After a Medical Error

If you were injured because of a medical mix-up, medication error, or prescription error, your injury may have been caused by medical negligence. A medical malpractice lawsuit can help you get the compensation you need to recover from your injuries. Contact us for help today online or call (800) 529-6162 today. 

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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