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Br J Gen Pract. 2006 December 1; 56(533): 968–969.
PMCID: PMC1934059

Using common ophthalmologic jargon in correspondence can lead to miscommunication

N Ali
Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Department of Ophthalmology, Maidstone Hospital, E-mail: moc.liamtoh@ilaresanrd
AA Khan
Department of Ophthalmology, Maidstone Hospital
M Akunjee
Department of Ophthalmology, Maidstone Hospital

The usage of abbreviations and acronyms is increasingly becoming accepted as part and parcel of the medical language.1 In recent times we have seen an almost exponential increase in the use of such shortened terms in almost every speciality of medicine,2 with the ophthalmic field being of no exception. Such abbreviations are used almost everyday by hospital clinicians in their correspondence with primary healthcare doctors.

Although acronyms are useful because they simplify and accelerate communication, specialists often take it for granted that certain trade terms are evident or self-explanatory such that they do not bother to define them.

The inappropriate use of jargon can lead to confusion and miscommunication between the ophthalmologists and the GPs; with the patient potentially suffering due to misdiagnosis or maltreatment.

In a primary healthcare survey we undertook, sending out a ‘jargon’ questionnaire to GPs based in Wales, asking each recipient to unravel 12 abbreviations to the best of their ability; we found quite surprising results.

Out of the 48 questionnaires we received, we found quite wide variance in the understanding of GPs for the meanings of 12 ophthalmologic abbreviations we presented. As few as 16.7% of GPs responded correctly to what the term, ‘PVD’ (posterior vitreous detachment) represented, with 32 of the responders offering ‘peripheral vascular disease’ as an explanation. However, 68.8% of GPs were able to correctly define what ‘Left RD repair’ meant. Startlingly, 67.8% of all the responses received were incorrectly defined or explained.

The results of our survey suggest that many of the acronyms used by ophthalmologists are often poorly understood among GPs. Such misunderstanding may create confusion both to the GP themselves and to the patient who may be presented with different diagnoses. Ophthalmologists have a duty of care to ensure that GPs are aware of the meanings of such terms used in their discharge summaries and outpatient letters.

We propose that to ensure GPs fully understand what such acronyms mean and to avert mishaps, eliminating any guesswork, one should avoid the usage of acronyms that denote common nonophthalmic conditions such as PVD. Specialist terms such as ‘pseudophakia’ should be replaced with the full procedural detail of the operation undertaken. Finally, when mentioning any acronym in such communiqués, the ophthalmologist must ensure that they are fully explained to avoid any confusion that could later be detrimental to patient health and care. An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
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1. Cheng TO. Acronymophilia: the exponential growth of the use of acronyms should be resisted. BMJ. 1994;309:683–684. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
2. Isaacs D, Fitzgerald D. Acronymophilia: an update. Arch Dis Child. 2000;83(6):517–518. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

Articles from The British Journal of General Practice are provided here courtesy of Royal College of General Practitioners