How to Read a Doctor's Prescription Correctly - 2 Simple Steps

Let’s face it, sometimes it feels like you need to be a medical school graduate to decipher a doctor’s prescription. Overbooking of appointments and handling of heavy caseloads often reduces the amount of time a physician can spend with each individual patient, which may leave the patient feeling confused about what solutions were recommended for them. Many times when a prescription is offered, it is done so quickly and without much explanation. In order to avoid having more questions when you leave the doctor’s office than you had when you arrived, follow these two simple steps on how to read a doctor’s prescription:

1. Ask for Clarity

Probably the most important—as well as the simplest—way to read a doctor’s prescription is just to ask for clarification of what has been written. If the doctor leaves you in a flurry before you have a chance to question him, then ask his nurse. Generally, a physician’s nurse will have a direct call line where she can be reached after you have left the office. If you are unable to contact the nurse, simply ask the pharmacist when you go to fill the prescription. All of these healthcare providers are there to make sure you are comfortable when taking your medications and will be happy to help you know how to read a doctor’s prescription. Be sure to ask what the name of the medication is, what it is generally used for, and what the recommended dosage is. Remember that doctors are human and can make mistakes just like everyone else. Ensure that what he has written for you is what you actually need, and that the medication is not counter-indicated in any way. You can double-check this by researching the medication online and reading any prescription inserts. Also, be sure to find out any special instructions for taking the medication (i.e. stay out of sunlight, take with food, etc.).

  • Ask your doctor.
  • Ask the nurse.
  • Ask the pharmacist.
  • Research online.
  • Read package inserts.

2. Understand the Lingo

Even if your prescription has been thoroughly explained to you by a healthcare professional, it is always best to have first-hand knowledge. Making sure you are familiar with the Latin-derived abbreviations that have been written is essential to being able to read a doctor’s prescription. These abbreviations are simply shorthand ways to indicate how and when a medication is to be used. Some of the most common abbreviations are:

Drug Dosages

  • CAPS = capsule
  • GTTS = drops
  • G = grams
  • MG = milligrams
  • ML = milliliters
  • SS = one-half
  • TABS = tablet
  • TBSP = tablespoon
  • TSP = teaspoon

Routes of Administration

  • PO = by mouth
  • IV = intravenously (through the vein)
  • IM = intramuscularly (in the muscle)
  • SC or SQ = subcutaneously (just below the skin)
  • AU = each ear
  • OU = each eye
  • PR = by rectum

When/How Often

  • QD = every day
  • BID = twice per day
  • TID = three times per day
  • QID = four times per day
  • HS = at bedtime
  • PRN = as needed
  • AC = before meals
  • INT = in between meals
  • PC = after meals
  • STAT = immediately

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