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ISMP and FDA Campaign to Eliminate Use of Error-Prone Abbreviations


The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have launched a national education campaign to help eliminate one of the most common but preventable sources of medication errors—the use of ambiguous medical abbreviations.

Some abbreviations, symbols and dose designations are frequently misinterpreted and lead to mistakes that result in patient harm. The ISMP-FDA campaign seeks to promote safe practices and prevent serious and even potentially fatal mistakes when communicating medication orders.

The campaign focuses on eliminating the use of error-prone abbreviations by healthcare professionals and students, medical communications and publishing professionals, the pharmaceutical industry, and FDA staff. ISMP and the FDA plan to reach those audiences through targeted educational materials, articles in professional journals, and presentations at key conferences and meetings.  

ISMP and FDA recommend that ISMP’s List of Error-Prone Abbreviations, Symbols, and Dose Designations be referenced whenever and wherever medical information is being communicated. This includes internal communications, telephone/verbal prescriptions, computer-generated labels, labels for drug storage bins, medication administration records, and pharmacy and prescriber computer order entry screens, as well as product labeling, industry promotional materials, and medical publications.

Some of the abbreviations on ISMP’s list are included in the current Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JC) National Patient Safety Goal 2B, a “do not use” list of error-prone abbreviations, but ISMP’s full listing includes additional medical notations that have been associated with medication errors reported to the ISMP Medication Errors Reporting Program.

In addition, ISMP and FDA are making available the following toolkit of resource materials.


  • ISMP Error-Prone Abbreviatons List. A comprehensive, printable two-page list of abbreviations, symbols, and dose designations that should NEVER be used in medical communications.
  • Brochure on Error-Prone Abbreviations. Outlines the scope of the problem and provides a short list of some of the most common and dangerous error-prone abbreviations and recommendations for medical professionals, the pharmaceutical industry, and medical communications professionals.
  • Print Public Service Ad. Can be used in your organization’s internal publications and materials.
  • Abbreviations Slide Set. This brief presentation can be used as a stand-alone educational presentation for staff meetings or conferences, or incorporated into an existing program on medication safety.
  • FDA Patient Safety Video. Use of this brief video is not restricted in any way, and the FDA encourages its further use and distribution as part of educational presentations or training. The video can be viewed either over the Internet(using Windows Media or RealPlayer) or downloaded (MPEG file). A written transcript is also provided.

Check back regularly, as additional tools will be added to this page. Click here if you have questions or need more information.


Resource Materials
Main Page
ISMP Error-Prone Abbreviations List

Campaign Brochure on Error-Prone Abbreviations

Print Public Service Ad
Abbreviations Slide Set
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