Unsafe Medical Abbreviations


Download: ISMP's List of Error-Prone Abbreviations, Symbols, and Dose Designations

The abbreviations, symbols, and dose designations found in this table have been reported to ISMP through the USP-ISMP Medication Error Reporting Program as being frequently misinterpreted and involved in harmful medication errors. They should NEVER be used when communicating medical information. This includes internal communications, telephone/verbal prescriptions, computer-generated labels, labels for drug storage bins, medication administration records, as well as pharmacy and prescriber computer order entry screens. The Joint Commission (TJC) has established a National Patient Safety Goal that specifies that certain abbreviations must appear on an accredited organization's do-not-use list; we have highlighted these items with a double asterisk (**). However, we hope that you will consider others beyond the minimum TJC requirements. By using and promoting safe practices and by educating one another about hazards, we can better protect our patients.

AbbreviationsIntended MeaningMisinterpretationCorrection
μg Microgram Mistaken as "mg" Use "mcg"
AD, AS, AU Right ear, left ear, each ear Mistaken as OD, OS, OU (right eye, left eye, each eye) Use "right ear," "left ear," or "each ear"
OD, OS, OU Right eye, left eye, each eye Mistaken as AD, AS, AU (right ear, left ear, each ear) Use "right eye," "left eye," or "each eye"
BT Bedtime Mistaken as "BID" (twice daily) Use "bedtime"
cc Cubic centimeters Mistaken as "u" (units) Use "mL"
D/C Discharge or discontinue Premature discontinuation of medications if D/C (intended to mean "discharge") has been misinterpreted as "discontinued" when followed by a list of discharge medications Use "discharge" and "discontinue"
IJ Injection Mistaken as "IV" or "intrajugular" Use "injection"
IN Intranasal Mistaken as "IM" or "IV" Use "intranasal" or "NAS"


At bedtime, hours of sleep
Mistaken as bedtime

Mistaken as half-strength
Use "half-strength" or "bedtime"
IU** International unit Mistaken as IV (intravenous) or 10 (ten) Use "units"
o.d. or OD Once daily Mistaken as "right eye" (OD-oculus dexter), leading to oral liquid medications administered in the eye Use "daily"
OJ Orange juice Mistaken as OD or OS (right or left eye); drugs meant to be diluted in orange juice may be given in the eye Use "orange juice"
Per os By mouth, orally The "os" can be mistaken as "left eye" (OS-oculus sinister) Use "PO," "by mouth," or "orally"
q.d. or QD** Every day Mistaken as q.i.d., especially if the period after the "q" or the tail of the "q" is misunderstood as an Use "daily"
qhs Nightly at bedtime Mistaken as "qhr" or every hour Use "nightly"
qn Nightly or at bedtime Mistaken as "qh" (every hour) Use "nightly" or "at bedtime"
q.o.d. or QOD** Every other day Mistaken as "q.d." (daily) or "q.i.d. (four times daily) if the "o" is poorly written Use "every other day"
q1d Daily Mistaken as q.i.d. (four times daily) Use "daily"
q6PM, etc. Every evening at 6 PM Mistaken as every 6 hours Use "6 PM nightly" or "6 PM daily"
SC, SQ, sub q Subcutaneous SC mistaken as SL (sublingual); SQ mistaken as "5 every;" the "q" in "sub q" has been mistaken as "every" (e.g., a heparin dose ordered "sub q 2 hours before surgery" misunderstood as every 2 hours before surgery) Use "subcut" or "subcutaneously"
ss Sliding scale (insulin) or ½ (apothecary) Mistaken as "55" Spell out "sliding scale;" use "one-half" or "½"

Sliding scale regular insulin

Sliding scale insulin
Mistaken as selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitor

Mistaken as Strong Solution of Iodine (Lugol's)
Spell out "sliding scale (insulin)"
i/d One daily Mistaken as "tid" Use "1 daily"
TIW or tiw 3 times a week Mistaken as "3 times a day" or "twice in a week" Use "3 times weekly"
U or u** Unit Mistaken as the number 0 or 4, causing a 10-fold overdose or greater (e.g., 4U seen as "40" or 4u seen as "44"); mistaken as "cc" so dose given in volume instead of units (e.g., 4u seen as 4cc) Use "unit"


Dose Designations
and Other Information
Intended MeaningMisinterpretationCorrection
Trailing zero after decimal point (e.g., 1.0 mg)** 1 mg Mistaken as 10 mg if the decimal point is not seen Do not use trailing zeros for doses expressed in whole numbers"


Dose Designations
and Other Information
Intended MeaningMisinterpretationCorrection
Drug name and dose run together (especially problematic for drug names that end in "l" such as Inderal40 mg; Tegretol300 mg) Inderal 40 mg

Tegretol 300 mg
Mistaken as Inderal 140 mg

Mistaken as Tegretol 1300 mg
Place adequate space between the drug name, dose, and unit of measure
Numerical dose and unit of measure run together (e.g., 10mg, 100mL) 10 mg

100 mL
The "m" is sometimes mistaken as a zero or two zeros, risking a 10- to 100-fold overdose Place adequate space between the dose and unit of measure
Abbreviations such as mg. or mL. with a period following the abbreviation mg

The period is unnecessary and could be mistaken as the number 1 if written poorly Use mg, mL, etc. without a terminal period
Large doses without properly placed commas (e.g., 100000 units; 1000000 units) 100,000 units

1,000,000 units
100000 has been mistaken as 10,000 or 1,000,000; 1000000 has been mistaken as 100,000 Use commas for dosing units at or above 1,000, or use words such as 100 "thousand" or 1 "million" to improve readability


Drug Name AbbreviationsIntended MeaningMisinterpretationCorrection
ARA A vidarabine Mistaken as cytarabine (ARA C) Use complete drug name
AZT zidovudine (Retrovir) Mistaken as azathioprine or aztreonam Use complete drug name
CPZ Compazine (prochlorperazine) Mistaken as chlorpromazine Use complete drug name
DPT Demerol-Phenergan-Thorazine Mistaken as diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus (vaccine) Use complete drug nam
DTO Diluted tincture of opium, or deodorized tincture of opium (Paregoric) Mistaken as tincture of opium Use complete drug name
HCl hydrochloric acid or hydrochloride Mistaken as potassium chloride
(The "H" is misinterpreted as "K")
Use complete drug name unless expressed as a salt of a drug
HCT hydrocortisone Mistaken as hydrochlorothiazide Use complete drug name
HCTZ hydrochlorothiazide Mistaken as hydrocortisone (seen as HCT250 mg) Use complete drug name
MgSO4** magnesium sulfate Mistaken as morphine sulfate Use complete drug name
MS, MSO4** morphine sulfate Mistaken as magnesium sulfate Use complete drug name
MTX methotrexate Mistaken as mitoxantrone Use complete drug name
PCA procainamide Mistaken as patient controlled analgesia Use complete drug name
PTU propylthiouracil Mistaken as mercaptopurine Use complete drug name
T3 Tylenol with codeine No. 3 Mistaken as liothyronine Use complete drug name
TAC triamcinolone Mistaken as tetracaine, Adrenalin, cocaine Use complete drug name
TNK TNKase Mistaken as "TPA" Use complete drug name
ZnSO4 zinc sulfate Mistaken as morphine sulfate Use complete drug name


Stemmed Drug NamesIntended MeaningMisinterpretationCorrection
"Nitro" drip nitroglycerin infusion Mistaken as sodium nitroprusside infusion Use complete drug name
"Norflox" norfloxacin Mistaken as Norflex Use complete drug name
"IV Vanc" intravenous vancomycin Mistaken as Invanz Use complete drug name


SymbolsIntended MeaningMisinterpretationCorrection


Symbol for dram mistaken as "3"

Symbol for minim mistaken as "mL"
Use the metric system
x3d For three days Mistaken as "3 doses" Use "for three days"
> and < Greater than and less than Mistaken as opposite of intended; mistakenly use incorrect symbol; "< 10" mistaken as "40" Use "greater than" or "less than"
(slash mark)
Separates two doses or indicates "per" Mistaken as the number 1 (e.g., "25 units/10 units" misread as "25 units and 110" units) Use "per" rather than a slash mark to separate doses
@ At Mistaken as "2" Use "at"
& And Mistaken as "2" Use "and"
+ Plus or and Mistaken as "4" Use "and"
° Hour Mistaken as a zero (e.g., q2° seen as q 20) Use "hr," "h," or "hour"


**These abbreviations are included on TJC's "minimum list" of dangerous abbreviations, acronyms and symbols that must be included on an organization's "Do Not Use" list, effective January 1, 2004. Visit www.jointcommission.org for more information about this TJC requirement.

Permission is granted to reproduce material for internal newsletters or communications with proper attribution. Other reproduction is prohibited without written permission. Unless noted, reports were received through the USP-ISMP Medication Errors Reporting Program (MERP). 

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