How well do you know the alphabet?

April 22, 2022  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources,


“Alpha, Bravo, Charlie…” Just about everyone has heard this phrase before whether it was from a movie, customer service or serving in the military. While it may be fun to say, the phonetic alphabet has a very important purpose. Originating in the military, this alphabet is a vital communication practice in a wide range of industries such as aerospace and health care. 

In everyday conversation, it may not seem like a big deal to clarify information. However, when someone is in danger or accurate measurements are needed, clarifying letters and numbers can reduce errors and avoid harm. At Michigan Medicine, complete and accurate communication makes it easier to understand the needs of the patient being cared for and/or the task at hand. 

Phonetic and numeric clarification come from the reliability skill: Communicate Clearly. This skill demonstrates the importance of situational awareness and how it is used to save lives. Today, ask yourself: how well do I know the phonetic alphabet and how many times have I used numeric clarification? 

So, how well do you know the phonetic alphabet? 

Try quizzing a colleague for bragging rights or even a prize like a cup of coffee or lunch. This is a great way to help yourself and others practice the alphabet while using it in everyday work interactions. 

When and how should you use this tool?

The three best times to use phonetic clarification are when saying a patient name, drug name, and procedure name. When using phonetic clarification — say the name, then spell the name by saying the letter and the phonetic clarification for that letter. 

Phonetic clarification example: For Gonzalez (not Gonzales), say “That’s Gonzalez that ends in “Z as in Zulu”, not “S as in Sierra” 

Numeric clarification is even easier and is extremely necessary in health care. If a nurse was giving a medication order for 15mg of morphine, she would say “15mg, as in one-five.” This quick and concise clarification can drastically reduce potential errors of incorrect dosing. The best times to use numeric clarifications are room number, dose, rate and result. When using numeric clarification — say the number and then say the digits. 

Numeric clarification examples:  

For 15, say “15, that’s one — five” 

For 50, say “50, that’s five — zero” 

For 0.9, say “0.9 that’s zero-point-nine” 

For 3-4, say “the range of three dash four” 

Did you know? 

  • Situational Awareness is a critical thinking skill that gives us the ability to anticipate future problems and notice existing problems. 
  • 31% of key activities leading to serious patient harm at Michigan Medicine were communication related. 
  • Phonetic clarification was developed by military organizations for high reliability when communicating under difficult conditions. Until 1957 each U.S. military service had their own phonetic alphabet. Now, all services use the same alphabet.