Methods: A reference list of error-prone abbreviations was developed. Prescriptions of outpatients and specialty clinic patients in a teaching hospital in Sri Lanka were reviewed during one month. An interviewer administered questionnaire was used to assess attitudes of pharmacists.
Results: 3370 drug items (989 prescriptions) were reviewed. The mean (standard deviation) number of abbreviations per prescription was 5.9 (3.5). The error-prone abbreviations used in the hospital were, μg (microgram), mcg (microgram), u (units), cc (cubic centimeter), OD (once a day), @ sign, d (days/daily), m (morning) and n (night), and among all prescriptions reviewed, they were used at a rate of 17.4%, 0.1%, 1.9%, 0.2%, 0.2%, 4.9%, 23.5%, 4.4% and 15.8% respectively. Among the 103 types of abbreviations observed, 71 were not standard acceptable abbreviations. Multiple abbreviations were used to indicate a single drug item/ instruction (N = 7). The abbreviation ‘d’ was used to denote ‘daily’ as well as ‘days’. All pharmacists believed that using error-prone abbreviations will always (5.3%) or sometimes (94.7%) lead to medication errors.
Conclusions: Error-prone abbreviations and many other unapproved abbreviations are frequently used in hospitals. There is a need to educating health care professionals on this issue and introduce an in-house error-prone abbreviation list for their guidance.