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What abbreviations are prone to lead to medication errors?

It may seem that as more hospitals and medical centers in Florida move towards electronic systems for prescribing medications, that sloppy handwriting on the part of physicians is no longer an issue. However, whether a prescription is sent electronically to pharmacy or a physician handwrites a prescription, medication errors can still occur. Part of the problem is that certain abbreviations used in prescriptions can be confused with other abbreviations, and, thus, they should not be used.

Sometimes the abbreviation itself can be misinterpreted. For example, the abbreviation "BT" is intended to mean "bedtime." However, it could be mistaken as "BID," which means twice daily. Thus, a patient who is to take a medication once at bedtime could end up taking that medication two times more often than prescribed.

Other times, the intended meaning of a dosage is misinterpreted. For example, a physician might include a trailing zero after a decimal. For instance, they may prescribe 1.0 mg of a medication, intending it to mean 1 mg. However, 1.0 mg could be misinterpreted as 10 mg, which is ten times the dosage prescribed if the decimal point is not seen.

In other cases, it is the abbreviation of the drug name itself that is misinterpreted. For example, the abbreviation for Compazine, a drug used to treat nausea, is CPZ. However, it could be mistaken as chlorpromazine, an antipsychotic medication. This could lead to the wrong medication being administered.

Finally, certain symbols are prone to being misinterpreted. For example, an ampersand is intended to mean "and." However, the symbol could be mistaken as the number "2." This could cause confusion and subsequently medication errors.

As these few examples illustrate, whether it is through incorrect typing or illegible handwriting, physicians must be very careful when using abbreviations in prescriptions. Certain abbreviations are prone to being misinterpreted and should not be used. Unfortunately, physicians will not always heed these warnings, leading to medication errors that cause a patient to suffer a worsened condition. Those who have been harmed due to medication errors will want to determine what their legal options are moving forward.

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