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Medical Terms, Abbreviations, and Spelling Errors


The use of medical terms and abbreviations is an integral part of the process of healthcare. On the one hand, the application of terminology is inevitable, and abbreviations can save time, which is essential for healthcare facilities. On the other hand, misspelling of terms and the lack of unification in abbreviations can lead to bias and become a cause of medical errors. This paper aims to stress the importance of correct spelling of medical terms, analyze the impact of spelling and abbreviation errors, and suggest ways to avoid those mistakes.

Importance of Correct Spelling of Medical Terms and Use of Accepted Abbreviations

Proper spelling of medical terms and correct use of abbreviations is crucial to healthcare. The data from the national medication error-reporting program show that in the period from 2004 to 2006 there were 4.7% of medical errors due to abbreviation use among the reported 643,151 (Rodwin, 2013). For example, abbreviations that are often misinterpreted include “MS,” which can be interpreted as morphine sulfate or magnesium sulfate, or “U” and “IU,” which mean unit and international unit correspondently (Rodwin, 2013). It is essential to check the proper spelling of terms and use of accepted abbreviations by a healthcare professional to avoid bias and the following medical errors because they can cause adverse patient outcomes.

Effects of Spelling and Abbreviation Errors

The prevalence of terminology and abbreviation use is high among doctors and nurses. The research reveals that their motivation to do so includes saving time, convenience, and avoidance of writing full sentences (Koh et al., 2015). However, while doctors have no difficulties in interpreting abbreviations, nurses frequently have to guess their meaning, which is likely to lead to misinterpretation and wrong actions. The same effect can be provided by errors in the spelling of medical terms. Such terms as anuresis and enuresis, cord and chord, ileum and ilium, perfusion and profusion, pleural and plural, etc. are frequently misspelled and misinterpreted due to similar pronunciation. Misspelling of terms can result in a wrong diagnosis or improper treatment, especially when multi-specialist teams are involved in the treatment process. Consequently, the excessive use of abbreviations and medical terminology, their misinterpretation, or errors can have an impact on both the healthcare provider and the patient. Thus, the patient can get the wrong treatment in case a nurse misinterprets a doctor’s prescriptions. Also, the patient can have problems with understanding the doctor’s written recommendations after discharge. As for a healthcare facility, it can observe an increased level of medication errors and a decrease in patient safety rates, which is not favorable for its reputation.

Ways to Avoid Mistakes in Spelling or Abbreviating Medical Terms

There are some ways to avoid mistakes in spelling and abbreviating medical terms. First of all, it is advisable to reduce their use. Secondly, a careful check of spelling and abbreviating is necessary. It will allow minimizing accidental mistakes. Thirdly, only accepted abbreviations should be used. Also, it is important to avoid the abbreviations included into “Do Not Use” list (Rodwin, 2013). Finally, continuous education for doctors and nurses can positively contribute to the correct use of terminology and, as a result, to the improved patient outcomes.


On the whole, the system of healthcare cannot exclude terminology and abbreviations. However, their excessive use should be limited to reduce the incidence of misspelling and misinterpretation, which can lead to medical errors. Thus, careful use of terms and abbreviation is an important component of patient safety.


Koh, K. C., Lau, K. M., Yusof, S. A., Mohamad, A. I., Shahabuddin, F. S. A., Ahmat, N. H., & Teh, P. C. (2015). A study on the use of abbreviations among doctors and nurses in the medical department of a tertiary hospital in Malaysia. Medical Journal of Malaysia, 70(6), 334-340.

Rodwin, B. (2013). . Web.

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