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Deciphering Your Prescription

Have you ever looked down at the prescription from your doctor and thought, “What in the world does this even mean?” It may just look like a bunch of random numbers and letters to you, but to health care providers, it’s another language for communication.

Doctors and other health care professionals use Latin-derived medical abbreviations when writing prescriptions or documenting in patient records. With so many patients to see and so little time, the use of abbreviations helps to save time and space when writing multiple prescriptions.

Here, we translate some of the most commonly used medical abbreviations:

M (Mitte) – Amount to give

i – 1 tablet

ii – 2 tablets

iii – 3 tablets

ss – Half tablet

R – Refills

QD – Once a day

BID – Twice a day

TID – Three times a day

QID – Four times a day

Q4-6H – Every 4 to 6 hours

AC – Before meals

CC – With meals

AM – In the morning

PM – In the evening

HS – At bedtime

PRN – As needed

UD – As directed

UF – Until finished

PO – Orally

PR – Rectally

SL – Sublingually (under the tongue)

SQ – Subcutaneously (under the skin)

TAB Tablet

CAP – Capsule

GTT – Drop

SUPP – Suppository

CR – Cream

UNG – Ointment


Although most of these abbreviations are universally recognized, there are some that can be mistaken for others which may lead to detrimental errors during prescription entry. For example, “OD” means “right eye” but some physicians may also use it to indicate “once daily.” In addition, if it is handwritten, it could also be mistaken for “ad” meaning “right ear.” To prevent confusion and ambiguity, the ISMP (Institute for Safe Medication Practices) has provided a list of error-prone abbreviations which should be avoided at all costs.

Being able to read your prescription is a great skill that can help facilitate the dispensing process and prevent errors. By checking your prescription before leaving the doctor’s office, you can ensure that what is written on the prescription corresponds with what the doctor told you. If you catch a mistake at the doctor’s office, you can simply ask them to quickly fix it for you on the spot. On the other hand, if a mistake is caught at the pharmacy, the pharmacy will have to fax the doctor for a corrected prescription and wait for a response which may take some time. The next time you leave the doctor’s with a prescription in hand, try to see if you can decipher it! If you have any questions about your prescription, don’t hesitate to clarify it with the prescribing physician.

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Can you decipher the following prescription? Leave your answer in the comments below!

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  1. List of error-prone abbreviations. ISMP. Updated October 2, 2017. Accessed December 19, 2020.

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