Eponyms: errors in clinical practice and scientific writing

Acta Orthop Belg. 2005 Feb;71(1):1-8.


Eponymous terms are in daily use in medicine. This system of nomenclature which simply commemorates a person is inconvenient, poses difficulties to students and leads to frequent mistakes in scientific writings. Nevertheless it can be helpful in completely describing a multi-symptomatic medical condition or a complex surgical procedure which otherwise would not be neatly encapsulated in a reasonably convenient word or phrase. We used Finkelstein's test as an example to demonstrate that the use of such nomenclature in clinical practice and scientific writing creates inaccuracies. We contacted 62 consultant orthopaedic surgeons and 47 specialist orthopaedic registrars of whom 53 consultant and 39 registrars responded. Three different descriptions of Finkelstein's test were used as described in current literature. Only 10 (10.7%) surgeons recognised the correct method as described by Finkelstein and 83 (89.3%) were unable to do so. The results shows that a statistically significant proportion of surgeons uses the test (p < 0.0001) but fails to identify the correct method (p < 0.0001). We also found that Finkelstein's test was inaccurately described in literature since Leao's incorrect description in 1958 (quoting Eichhoff's manoeuvre) and the mistake persisted for over 50 years before it could be accredited. Such mistakes are frequent not only in hand surgery but in other sections of medicine as well. We conclude that in the modern era of evidence based medicine, use of such trivial nomenclature should be avoided. Efforts should be made to introduce proper descriptive nomenclature, by devising criteria systems which would be easy to use and not fictitious.

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine
  • Eponyms*
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors
  • Orthopedics / methods
  • Orthopedics / standards*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Writing / standards