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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  Recommendations for terminology, abbreviations and symbols used in medicines documentation’ promote patient safety through clear and unambiguous communication of medicines information. These recommendations include:

  • principles for safe, clear and consistent terminology for medicines
  • list of safe terms, abbreviations and dose designations for medicines

A list of error prone abbreviations, symbols and dose designations to be avoided can be found in the Spell it Out’ standards

These principles and recommendations apply to:

  • all medications orders or prescriptions that are handwritten or pre-printed, computer generated (printed hard copy) or electronic
  • all communication and records concerning medicines, including telephone, verbal orders, prescriptions, medication administration records and labels for drug storage

Although these standards provide recommendations they are 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, consider the principles outlined in the Recommendations.

SA Health policies

The Spell it out: Standardised terminology, abbreviations and symbols to be used when communicating about medicines Policy (PDF 116KB) aims to promote patient safety through the use of clear and unambiguous communication of medicines information.

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.

Background

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 was endorsed by Health Ministers for release and implementation from January 2009.

In 2016, the Commission produced an updated document Recommendations for terminology, abbreviations and symbols used in medicines documentation, December 2016'.


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