In the medical world, there are a huge number of abbreviations, which, in general make life much easier as there is so much terminology to be used. In the OET writing task, there are some incidences where it is appropriate to use abbreviations and others where it is better to write the information in full. This is also changing over time, both in the medical word and in OET writing. We will outline the key areas to consider to ensure that you are accomplished in your abbreviation use!
Will the recipient of your letter understand the abbreviation?
The OET guidance does not provide a set list of acceptable and non-acceptable abbreviations and acronyms so it can be difficult to know when to abbreviate, but it does give some guidelines. The abbreviations that would be acceptable to use would basically be those that would be understood by those in the profession of the candidate and that of the recipient of the letter. So it comes down to common sense and instinct to a certain degree.
If you are a GP and the referral letter is to a consultant, there will be abbreviations that you will both be aware of and vice-versa. However, if you are a consultant, there may be some abbreviations that are not known to a GP. If you are writing a referral letter to a different type of professional to yourself, this should be borne in mind. If you are writing to a patient or a patient’s family, avoiding abbreviations would be more relevant as they will not be aware of any workplace or technical jargon.
Can I use abbreviations for medical conditions?
Abbreviations such as BMI and BP are pretty commonplace but the abbreviation of a condition may not be known to the recipient of the letter so we would suggest that medical conditions should be written in full. You can follow the condition with the acronym in brackets and then refer to it as such the following times that it is mentioned.
One example of where it is specifically stated not to use an abbreviation is for diabetes. E.g. You are required to write type 2 diabetes rather than NIDDM.
Can I use abbreviations for drug administration?
Apart from units of measurement e.g. mg, it is very important that candidates write the information in full when it comes to drug administration. Times of drug administration, for example should be written as at night rather than nocte; every 2 hours rather than 2/7; as required rather than PRN etc.
Basically, any abbreviations or symbols regarding drug administration which could be confusing in any way must be avoided, so once again use your common sense. It is also worth being aware that there are some differences between abbreviations used in Australia and England so writing in full is generally preferable here.
To be clear, we are not suggesting that you avoid abbreviations and acronyms altogether in your OET letters. They are an extremely important element of communicating in the medical profession and should be learnt and used. Rather, that you maintain an awareness of the need for your letter to be easily understood by the recipient so that there can be no discrepancy whatsoever about the information being communicated, especially regarding medication, as it goes without saying that this is of paramount importance.