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Reading a doctor's prescription for most people is like trying to read hieroglyphics. But this abbreviated shorthand from doctors to pharmacists is essential to saving physicians time and repetitive wrist strain.

How to Read a Doctor Prescription

All prescriptions contain the same information. The script begins with a letterhead at the top identifying the name, address and contact number of the prescribing doctor. This is important in case your pharmacist needs to contact them to clarify what's written.

In the middle of the prescription is where the actual order for medications is located in an abbreviated shorthand. It starts with the name of the drug, the dose of the drug, a unit of measurement, the route to give it, how often to give it, and for how long.


Let's try an example: Voltaren 50 mg po tid x 1/7. This order is for an anti-inflammatory called Voltaren, at a dose of 50 milligrams, given by mouth, three times a day, for one week - see how much shorter it is to write in shorthand. (This example is a prescription for arthritis).

How to Read Doctor's Prescription Abbreviations

The following is a list of common abbreviations we doctors use on prescriptions: 

od - once a day

bid - twice a day
tid - three times a day
qid - four times a day

hs - once nightly

po - taken by mouth
IM/IV - by injection into muscle and vein respectively

sc - injection under the skin
ac - before meals
nocte - at night
prn - as needed
stat - right away

rpt - times to repeat. If not stated assumed to be zero. 

wt - weight (typically on pediatric scripts)

cap - capsule

tab - tablet

supp - suppository

We also abbreviate time on prescriptions with denominators of 7 = days, 12 = months, and 52 = weeks. So for example a script meant to run for five days will be notated as 5/7. Or a script for three months would be written as 3/12 by the issuing doctor.


I personally use my own notation of w meaning weeks and m meaning months. So for a prescription to my patient of say 'baby' aspirin for three months I would write: ASA 81 mg po od x 3m. I find my bespoke method a fraction faster than the traditional method, and so far, no pharmacist has been confused by it. 

What is a Prescription Really?


A prescription is a legal document which entitles the bearer access to controlled substances we call medications. This is designed to protect us from chemicals that could be hazardous to use without direction and monitored use.


Remember to always carry identification when filling a prescription and read label instructions carefully before consuming. If you have a question about your medication ask your pharmacist - they will be happy to help you.


And if something seems wrong about your prescription filled, trust your gut and bring it up with the pharmacist. Over my career I've seen many instances where a patient's "spidey-sense" saved them from taking the wrong dose or wrong med. To err is human but so is trusting our guardian instincts. 

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