Acronyms kill clarity

Jargon, slang, acronyms, buzzwords, lingo, whatever you want to call it, it’s rampant in the NHS (that’s the National Health Service) in case you were wondering)! Okay, so the NHS is a commonly adopted and a generally understood acronym but it’s the perfect lead in to my open letter to all that work within healthcare.




Dear Healthcare professionals,

We breath the same air, we need the same basic needs, we all have good days and bad days, but most importantly we all have been inconvenienced by acronyms at one time or another! I know I speak to the hearts of many when I say, acronyms have gone too far. When we abbreviate ‘To Come In’ to ‘TCI’ I think we may have an epidemic on our hands.

There is a creeping tendency to use made up acronyms at SpaceX. Excessive use of made up acronyms is a significant impediment to communication and keeping communication good as we grow is incredibly important. Individually, a few acronyms here and there may not seem so bad, but if a thousand people are making these up, over time the result will be a huge glossary that we have to issue to new employees. No one can actually remember all these acronyms and people don’t want to seem dumb in a meeting, so they just sit there in ignorance. This is particularly tough on new employees. – Elon Musk

I would be quite confident in saying that all of you, have at least once in your life, experienced the above. Sitting in a meeting while letters get thrown around like tomatoes at La Tomatina festival in Spain. It’s frustrating, confusing and downright unfair. The above quote comes from an email Elon Musk wrote to all his employees at SpaceX. While his aggressive approach on matters have traditionally been a topic of controversy, he makes a valid argument; why does something that is in essence made to make our lives easier, actually makes it harder?

Of course, there is a time and a place for acronyms but I implore you to think about the top 10 acronyms you use on a day to day basis and how it impacts conversations for those who may not understand them. The key test for an acronym is to ask whether it helps or hurts communication’. The word of note in that quote is communication. The NHS needs to run like a well-oiled machine when it comes to communication. I chuckle at Elon saying they would need to issue a huge glossary when that is the reality of the NHS. The truth is, there is no way we can or should be concerned with reading said glossary, this is a counterproductive use of our time. Time, which we all know doesn’t exist in the NHS.

I will leave you with this; Acronyms kill clarity and there is nothing we need less in hospitals than obscurity. Make your communications clear, impactful and powerful. Acronyms don’t aid in that.


Yours in health,