Medical Abbreviations can be scary

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Have you ever tried to read a prescription from your doctor and wondered if it was written in a foreign language? You are not alone. Aside from poor penmanship, medical abbreviations can make any type of notes from a doctor seem illegible to the average person. However, these abbreviations are meant to be universally understood in the medical community, so they appear frequently on prescriptions, in medical records, and on charts.

Unfortunately, simple abbreviations can also lead to medical errors. For example, Dr. Fred N. Pelzman shared in a recent article how he had seen a woman in a follow-up visit after she went to the emergency room. Her records indicated she was a patient “with morphine sulfate,” which did not seem particularly important to him initially. However, upon closer examination, the doctor realized the patient had multiple sclerosis, which was likely abbreviated to MS and then reinterpreted to mean “morphine sulfate.”

“Often, when patients’ charts are dictated by a physician, I’ve seen the following notation added to the end of their consult letters: ‘Letter dictated but not read for accuracy to expedite care,’” Dr. Pelzman writes. “That scares the heck out of me.”

Understanding Common Medical Abbreviations

As a patient, you may notice a range of abbreviations used throughout your medical records. Some of the common medical abbreviations include:

  • ac: before meals
  • ad lib: at will, as desired
  • adm: admission, admitted
  • ANED: alive no evidence of disease
  • bid: twice a day
  • BM: bowel movement
  • BP: blood pressure
  • BRP: bathroom privileges
  • cap: capsule
  • CC: chief complaint
  • cc: cubic centimeter
  • c/o: complains of
  • CXR: chest X-ray
  • d/c: discontinue or discharge
  • fx: fracture
  • HA: headache
  • H & P: history and physical
  • HR: heart rate
  • hr: hour
  • hs: hour of sleep or bedtime
  • I & O: intake and output
  • JT: Joint
  • MVA: motor vehicle accident
  • NPO: nothing by mouth
  • N/V: nausea or vomiting
  • OD: right eye
  • OS: left eye
  • OU: both eyes
  • pc: after meals
  • po: by mouth
  • prn: as needed
  • pt: patient
  • qd: every day
  • qh: every hour
  • qid: four times a day
  • qod: every other day
  • s: without
  • SOB: short of breath
  • s/s: signs and symptoms
  • stat: immediately
  • sx: symptoms
  • tab: tablet
  • T: temperature
  • TPR: temperature, pulse, respiration
  • vs: vital signs

If you have any questions about abbreviations or concerns about mistakes in your record, you should not hesitate to talk to your doctor about it.

Have You Been Harmed by a Medical Error?

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury or illness due to a medical error on the part of a doctor or other health care professional, you should learn about your legal rights. At Baker & Gilchrist, our experienced attorneys are committed to fighting for the rights of patients who have been harmed by medical malpractice.

Our trusted team can review the details of your claim in a free consultation and explain your options for moving forward. Please call us at 1-866-657-7239 or contact us online to get started.


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