The need to address poor numeracy skills in the emergency department environment

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Substantial evidence exists for lack of numerical skills among many health professionals. Although poor numeracy has long been recognised as a contributor to medication error, other activities for which numerical literacy are required, such as interpretation of diagnostic results, have been largely ignored. Poor self-awareness of lack of numerical literacy increases the risk, especially in the busy and hurried emergency environment. System changes, such as standardising units and improving number presentation, reduce the potential for misinterpretation; however system changes do not address the underlying deficiencies in mathematical skills. The training of doctors in numeracy has been largely ignored. In contrast, education for nurses frequently occurs during both pre- and post-registration programmes. Interventions have had mixed success, although additional emphasis in increasing conceptual understanding of numbers is encouraging. The consequences of poor numerical literacy should be addressed in all clinical staff, not only by practice change to remove the potential for errors to be made, but also complemented by self-awareness and education.

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