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J R Soc Med. 2004 November; 97(11): 556.
PMCID: PMC1079661

Medical abbreviations

Das-Purkayastha and colleagues (September 2004 JRSM1) found that half of commonly used abbreviations in ear, nose and throat surgery were unclear to more than 90% of junior doctors from other specialties. Though I applaud their study, I disagree with one of their proposed solutions: to ban abbreviations altogether (the other was to distribute a list of those acceptable, with explanations).

Physicians, especially cardiologists of which I am one, like to use or invent abbreviations and acronyms.2 The use of abbreviations or acronyms is sometimes necessary to simplify and facilitate modern communication in our highly technical world, especially to avoid repetition of long, tongue-twisting and space-occupying terminologies. The problem with the abbreviations and acronyms is not the endless number of new ones but the fact that many of them are not defined when first used. Medical journals are not exempt from this criticism,3 and my proposed remedy goes under the acronym PLEASE—Plea to Let Each Acronym (or Abbreviation) be Spelled out Every time.4


1. Das-Purkayastha P, McLeod K, Canter R. Specialist medical abbreviations as a foreign language. J R Soc Med 2004;97: 456 [PMC free article] [PubMed]
2. Cheng TO. Acronyms of cardiologic trials—2002. Int J Cardiol 2003;91: 261–351 [PubMed]
3. Cheng TO. Acronym aggravation. Br Heart J 1994;71: 107–9 [PMC free article] [PubMed]
4. Cheng TO. Plea to Let Each Acronym be Spelled out Every time (PLEASE). Eur Heart J 1995;16: 292 [PubMed]

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