GPs stumped by abbreviations


GPs do not understand much of the shorthand used by hospital doctors in discharge letters, a study reveals.

In a survey 240 GPs were asked if they knew the meaning of 15 most commonly used abbreviations plus five less frequently used but clinically important abbreviations used in 200 consecutive discharge letters from Nepean hospital in Sydney.

They discovered that six abbreviations were misinterpreted by more than a quarter of the GPs surveyed.

These included SNT (soft non-tender), TTE (transthoracic echocardiogram), EST (exercise stress test), NKDA (no known drug allergies), CTPA (computed tomography pulmonary angiography), and ORIF (open reduction and internal fixation).

These were interpreted incorrectly by 47 per cent (62), 33 per cent (44), 33 per cent (44), 32 per cent (43), 31 per cent (41), and 28 per cent (37) of GPs respectively, reported the authors in this week’s MJA.

The findings had the potential to adversely affect patient care in the transition from hospital to community care, they said.

Potential solutions included banning the use of abbreviations in electronic discharge letters, or using only a limited number of hospital-approved abbreviations and providing GPs with an approved abbreviation list.

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