Doctor Explains What The Term “Stat” Means (& How It’s Used)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

In the fast-paced medical world, time-sensitive decisions and actions are crucial for saving lives and ensuring the well-being of patients.

This urgency is reflected in the language used by medical professionals. One commonly used term that signifies the need for swift action is “stat,” which may leave many people wondering about its origin and meaning.

The term “stat” is derived from the Latin word “statim,” which means “instantly” or “immediately.” It is primarily used as a directive to medical personnel during emergency situations, indicating that a particular task must be completed without delay.

It is now commonly heard in various scenarios, from requesting lab results to moving patients between wards.

Its clear and concise nature allows healthcare professionals to communicate the urgency of the situation effectively, ensuring timely and efficient patient care.

Why Do Doctors Say ‘Stat’?

Although I’ve never personally heard it dramatically shouted during a medical emergency as you might see on TV, doctors do genuinely use the term ‘stat’ inside and outside of hospitals.

It is most often used when time is a critical factor in medical care.

‘Stat’ as a directive helps medical personnel understand the urgency of a particular procedure, test, or treatment, indicating that the action should be done quickly and without delay.

When a doctor or nurse uses the term ‘stat’, they are communicating the need for immediate action, often to treat a life-threatening condition or to prevent further complications.

Why Doctors Say Stat Pixel Infographic

In practice, saying ‘stat’ ensures that the required tasks receive priority over routine work, allowing medical teams to respond rapidly to a patient’s needs.

This can help save lives and improve patient outcomes, making ‘stat’ a vital tool in a doctor’s medical vocabulary.

Initially used in pharmacology, doctors would write “stat” on prescriptions to signify that the medication should be administered right away.

While other terms like “quick” or “now” could be used, the Latin expression carries more weight, as it has been ingrained in the medical lexicon for quite some time

Situations Requiring ‘Stat’ Orders

One situation where “stat” might be used is when a patient appears to be rapidly deteriorating.

A doctor may assess a patient and notice signs of severe distress like difficulty breathing or a loss of consciousness.

In this case, the doctor may order a stat chest X-ray to identify the cause and determine the appropriate course of action.

Similarly, in cases of acute chest pain, a doctor might suspect a heart attack, also known medically as a myocardial infarction.

As time is of the essence, they could request an electrocardiogram (ECG) to be performed stat to identify any irregularities and promptly initiate treatment.

The faster the ECG is done, the sooner the appropriate intervention can begin, potentially saving the patient’s life.

In critical situations, such as severe trauma or accidents, medical professionals must act quickly to assess the injuries and stabilise patients.

A doctor may require a stat blood test, for instance, to determine blood type and ensure that a patient receives the correct blood during a transfusion. This can prevent complications and expedite the patient’s recovery process.

Moreover, when dealing with a potential overdose or poisoning, healthcare providers may need to administer a specific antidote immediately.

In such cases, they will request the pharmacy to deliver the required antidote stat, ensuring that the patient gets the life-saving treatment as swiftly as possible.

Different Situations In Which ‘Stat’ Can Be Used

As a doctor, I’ve got to admit it’s not often that I’d request or order something as ‘stat’. The emergency situations in which the term is most valuable are, after all, relatively rare.

However, I would far more commonly use it in its traditional form- when filling out prescriptions.

Nurses may commonly ask for a stat dose of paracetamol for one of their patients who has a headache, or a stat anti-sickness medication for someone who’s vomiting.

A UK ambulance driving on a road
An NHS ambulance driving on blue lights

All it really means in these situations is that you’re giving the medication right away.

There are no dramatic calls for defibrillators or scalpels, just a shorthand term that’s handy for scribbling on drug charts.

Alternatives To Saying ‘Stat’

One common alternative to the term stat would be “ASAP”, which of course stands for “as soon as possible”.

Much like ‘stat’, ASAP is used to indicate that something needs to be done quickly, without delay.

Although it may not have the same level of urgency as ‘stat’, it is still widely understood in medical environments.

Another option is using specific timeframes, such as “within the hour” or “within 15 minutes”.

By providing an exact window of time, medical professionals can further clarify the level of urgency and ensure that the required task is completed promptly.

This practice can be beneficial in situations where multiple tasks need to be prioritised and completed within a short period.

On occasion, medical personnel may also use colour-coded alerts or codes to indicate urgency. For example, some hospitals have adopted the use of “Code Blue” to signify a medical emergency requiring immediate attention.

These codes allow staff to quickly understand the severity of a situation and take appropriate action without the need for further explanation.

Other Timeframes Used In Medicine

While stat essentially means immediately, there are some other timeframes commonly used in medicine. These include:

  • OD: Abbreviation for “once daily.” It means that the medication should be taken once a day, usually at the same time each day.
  • BD: Abbreviation for “twice daily.” It means that the medication should be taken two times a day, typically with a specified interval between doses.
  • TDS: Abbreviation for “ter die sumendum,” which translates to “to be taken three times a day.” It indicates that the medication should be taken three times a day, usually with a specified interval between doses.
  • QDS: Abbreviation for “quater die sumendum,” which translates to “to be taken four times a day.” It indicates that the medication should be taken four times a day.
  • PRN: Abbreviation for “pro re nata,” which means “as needed.” It suggests that the medication should be taken only when necessary, based on specific symptoms or conditions.
  • HS: Abbreviation for “hora somni,” which means “at bedtime.” It indicates that the medication should be taken before going to sleep.
  • Q4H: Abbreviation for “every 4 hours.” It indicates that the medication should be taken every four hours, usually during waking hours.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the origins of the term ‘stat’?

The term ‘stat’ is derived from the Latin word “statim,” which means “immediately,” “right away,” or “instantly.” This word is a directive for healthcare staff during critical times to prioritise the specific task and complete it as quickly as possible.

What are some examples of ‘stat’ being used in medical situations?

If a patient has a severe allergic reaction and requires immediate medication, a doctor might say, “Administer the adrenaline stat!” Another example could be when a patient experiences sudden chest pain and the medical team needs to perform an ECG. In this case, they might say, “Get the ECG machine, stat!”.

Do medical professionals commonly use the term ‘stat’?

Medical professionals use the term ‘stat’ regularly during emergency situations or when time-sensitive tasks are required. The use of ‘stat’ ensures that medical staff understand the importance of the task and prioritise it. Additionally, doctors also write ‘stat’ on prescriptions.

Final Thoughts

Doctors in the real world definitely don’t use the term ‘stat’ as often or as dramatically as most medical TV dramas would make out.

However, it is still a genuine medical term that does genuinely have its place in patient care.

As a practising doctor, I’m yet to shout “Stat!” In the middle of a medical emergency but I have signed hundreds of prescriptions with it and will use the term intermittently.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.