JCAHO Seeks Input on Strategies to Avoid Medical Abbreviation Errors, Modifies National Patient Safety Goal

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. -- The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations this week released for review potential strategies to reduce medical errors related to the misuse and misinterpretation of medical abbreviations. 

The online survey seeking feedback on how to avoid errors associated with medical abbreviations is posted on the Joint Commission website, www.jcaho.org, and has also been distributed for comment to health care professionals, providers, consumers, and other stakeholders.  Questions focus specifically on the usefulness of a universal list of prohibited abbreviations, acronyms and symbols, the types of settings and documents to which they should apply, any exemptions that should be provided, and possible implementation strategies. The deadline for feedback is March 1, 2005.


The field review represents the conclusions reached by participants at the National Summit on Medical Abbreviations.  The Summit was hosted in November 2004 by the Joint Commission and co-convened by the American College of Physicians, American College of Surgeons, American Dental Association, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Institute for Safe Medication Practices, and United States Pharmacopeia.  Representatives from more than 50 professional societies, associations and interest groups participated in the Summit, seeking to reach consensus solutions to this serious and complex problem.

In the meantime, the Joint Commission has altered the 2005 requirements for meeting National Patient Safety Goal 2b that requires organizations to standardize abbreviations, acronyms and symbols used throughout the organization, including a list of abbreviations, acronyms, and symbols not to use.  The modified Goal:

           Applies only to orders and medication-related documents, a reduced requirement.

           Applies to preprinted forms, for which 100 percent compliance is expected.  This extends the requirement beyond handwritten documentation, but is a reduced requirement from that originally planned for 2005.

           The minimum expected level of compliance for handwritten documentation remains at 90 percent.


In 2001, the Joint Commission issued a Sentinel Event Alert on the subject of medical abbreviations and implemented the National Patient Safety Goal as an accreditation requirement in 2003.  During 2003 surveys, approximately 15 percent of accredited organizations were found to be out of compliance with the abbreviations requirement.  In 2004, the Joint Commission sought to further address this issue by issuing a minimum list of dangerous abbreviations, acronyms and symbols that must not be used. 


Source: JCAHO