Expanding medical abbreviations may improve patient understanding of health records

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A recent study found that patients who received medical records with an automated expansion of common abbreviations had better comprehension of their health information, suggesting automated expansion could improve patients’ understanding of their health problems.

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, was led by Lisa Grossman Lui, PhD, of Columbia University in New York. Lui and her team of researchers set out to discover the effect automated expansion of abbreviations had on patients’ comprehension of their medical records. According to the study, while an estimated 100 million patients access their health records online, there are many abbreviations in the documents that often limit patients’ understanding. The investigation included 60 patients with a mean age of 66 years old who enrolled in the study between February 2020 and August 2021. Each patient had been diagnosed with heart failure. Participants were split into two groups. One group was asked to read clinical text with abbreviations and the other read text that expanded 10 common abbreviations.

The study’s results showed that, overall, the group that received expanded abbreviations reported significantly better comprehension of the material than the group that read text with abbreviations. The average comprehension score of the intervention group was 95 percent while the control group received an average score of 62 percent. Researchers found that only for moderately complicated abbreviations such as HTN (hypertension) did the automated expansion make a significant difference in patient comprehension.

This study suggests that automated expansion of medical abbreviations can have a significant impact on a patient’s understand of their health documents. In the study’s conclusion, researchers urged clinicians to be mindful of patients’ lack of understand of medical abbreviations and consider implementing automated expansion into their patient practice.