Medication terminology

The use of potentially dangerous terminology, abbreviations and dose expressions when communicating about medicines, contributes significantly to medication errors. Standardisation has been identified as a key strategy in reducing these errors.

Spell it out

The Spell it out standards (PDF 94KB) promote patient safety through clear and unambiguous communication of medicines information. These standards include:

  • principles for consistent prescribing terminology
  • acceptable terms and abbreviations
  • error-prone abbreviations, symbols and dose designations to be avoided.

These principles and recommendations apply to:

  • all medications orders or prescriptions that are handwritten or pre-printed
  • all communication and records concerning medicines, including telephone, verbal orders, prescriptions, medication administration records and labels for drug storage

Although these standards provide recommendations it is not all inclusive. 

There may also be specific circumstances where other terminology may be considered safe. Before deciding to include such terminology in local policies, see Table 1 within the standards (PDF 94KB).

SA Health policies

The Spell it out: Standardised terminology, abbreviations and symbols to be used when communicating about medicines Policy (PDF 116KB) aims to enhance safe medication practice in South Australia through the provision of a tool to reduce the occurrence of medication errors arising from the use of error-prone terminology, abbreviations and dose designations when communicating about medicines.

Supporting resources

Poster (PDF 102KB)

Notepad (PDF 86KB)

Further information

Further information on the standardised terminology, abbreviations and symbols to be used when communicating about medicines, contact Medicines and Technology Policy and Programs.


In 2008, the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care proposed the use of a document prepared by NSW Therapeutic Advisory Group as a national standard for terminology, abbreviations and symbols. This standard is used in the prescribing and administering of medicines in Australian hospitals. Health Ministers endorsed the document for release and implementation from January 2009.

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