Monday, December 11, 2006

When Acronyms Attack!

I heard a new acronym the other day.

Acronyms are common in medicine and nursing. We have "ETOH", shorthand for "alcohol" (it's the chemical formula for drinkable alcohol, not the rubbing sort), which is also often used as a shorthand for alcohol abuse.

There's "SOB", which isn't a description of the patient's personality, but instead stands for "Shortness Of Breath".

And "TURP". TURP means Trans-Urethral Resection of the Prostate, a method of removing part or all of the prostate gland.

"BRCA" is one everybody knows about, thanks to recent news stories about the breast- and ovarian-cancer gene BRCA1. BRCA is, of course, BReast CAncer.

"GBM" is one I use a lot--it stands for GlioBlastoma Multiforme, the number-one brain tumor you don't want to get.

The new one? "TUD".

"TUD...." I thought. "TUD. I wonder what TUD means. Trans-urethral....no, that's not it. Topical....no."

Finally, I started asking everybody else on the floor if they'd heard the acronym before. Nobody had. And nothing makes a group of nurses feel dumber than an acronym they can't figure out, so we were an unhappy bunch. I finally caught up with the doctor who'd written the history and asked what on earth TUD meant, and she said:

"Tobacco Use Disorder."

Tobacco use disorder. The patient is a smoker. No, wait, not a smoker, but a person with tobacco use disorder. I rolled the term "tobacco use disorder" around in my brain for a while, wondering when we'd get hit with "Dietary Fat Disorder" or "Inactivity Syndrome" or "Fewer Teeth Than A Chicken."

Most of the time I'm in favor of medical language. It's hung on for years for a reason: it's exacting and precise, it's descriptive, and it's relatively easy to translate for the lay person if you take a little time. I'm not a huge fan of the idea that we need to write in plain English rather than use medical terminology, partly because most of the doctors and nurses I run into can't write plainly, but can manage medical terminology.

But this time? I'm in favor of ditching the acronym TUD and going back to "smoker", with a quick comment or two on PPD (pack-per-day) and when the person quit, if they already have.

Tobacco Use Disorder, if it catches on, is going to cause Exploding Head Syndrome.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I always thought TURP was transurethral resection of the prostate

Jo said...

Anon, thank you. The error's been fixed. This is what happens when I post at 0430, before Enough Coffee.

DisappearingJohn said...

My favorite story about acronyms was dueing nursing school when we had a case study in OB/GYN.

The case study read, "The nurse delivers a baby, sees that it has wide set eyes, low set ears, and thinks its an FLK." and goes on to ask a few questions... I looked for FLK in every book I could find for hours and was going nuts... Finally, I decided I could figure it out from the clues, and started thinking... Wide set eye..hmm, fetal alcohol...no, that doesn't fit.. low set ears? Man, that sure would be one funny looking kid... At which point I slapped myself in the head, and realized my instructor was a long term L&D nurse.... I've never forgotten FLK, either..