When your healthcare provider hands you a prescription for your medication, you may think some of it is written in another language – perhaps because of its poor handwriting and/or confusing abbreviations and symbols.
Common Prescription Abbreviations
Many of the abbreviations on prescriptions relate to how often a person should take the drug, such as before meals, or the route of administration, such as inhalation versus oral.
|communicate or communicate||before eating|
|bid or bid||twice a day|
|hs or hs||bedtime|
|Britain||Inhalation (such as asthma rescue inhaler)|
|computer or computer||after eating|
|precious||Oral (every oral dose)|
|prn or prn||as required|
|SC or SQ||subcutaneously (such as insulin injections)|
|begging for help||if necessary|
|tid or tid||3 times a day|
The problem with medical abbreviations is that they can be misread or misinterpreted by pharmacists, leading to medication errors that can be harmful to patients. Poor handwriting is common, and slipping fingers on electronic prescriptions is not far-fetched.
forbidden medical abbreviation
To prevent these medical errors, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAH) created a list of “do not use” abbreviations in 2003.
According to the JCAH, for the following abbreviations, healthcare providers must write the full word, not the abbreviation, on any handwritten order or medication-related document (including computer forms with free text) or preprinted forms.
|JCAH does not use manifests|
|IU||international unit||May be mistaken for IV or number 10||Write “International Unit”|
|Missing leading zero (eg 0.5 mg)||May miss decimal points, leading to overdose||Write 0.X mg|
|MgSO4, MS, MSO4||Magnesium sulfate or morphine sulfate||can be confused with each other||Morphine sulfate or magnesium sulfate must be written|
|QD, QD, qd, qd||Daily||May be mistaken for QOD||write “every day”|
|QOD, QOD, qod, qod||every other day||Periods after Q and O can be mistaken for “I”||Write “every other day”|
|trailing zeros (eg 1.0 mg)||May miss decimal points, leading to overdose||Write X mg|
|you or you||unit||May be mistaken for 0, 4. or cc||write “unit”|
more error prone acronym
In 2005, the Institute of Medical Practice (ISMP) also created a list of medical abbreviations that can lead to errors.This list is much larger than the JCAHO list. Below are just a few examples.
|ISMP error-prone abbreviation example|
|cc||cubic centimeter||May be mistaken for U (unit)||write milliliters or milliliters|
|microgram||microgram||May be mistaken for milligrams (milligrams), resulting in an overdose||Write out micrograms or use mcg|
|SC or SQ||subcutaneous||SC may be mistaken for SL (sublingual) and SQ may be mistaken for “5 each”||Write out subcutaneously or use subcut|
|@||exist||May be confused with number 2||write on|
|&||and||May be confused with number 2||write and|
In good practice, your healthcare provider should include a full medical description on the prescription, including the name of the drug, the frequency of intake, and the route of administration—for example, ciprofloxacin 250 mg orally once daily. This ensures clear communication with the pharmacist and/or nurse and optimizes your safety as a patient.
Notify your healthcare provider and pharmacist right away if you suspect that your prescription is in error—errors can happen even with abbreviated guidelines. Trust your intuition and keen eyes. You don’t want to be the victim of medical malpractice.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does prn in medicine mean?
The abbreviation prn or prn on the prescription means need.it stands for latin phrase before dyingwhich means “depending on the situation”.
What does a bid on a prescription mean?
twice a day.Bid or bid is death two, A Latin phrase that translates to twice a day.
What does the tid on the prescription mean?
three times a day. Tid or tid is short for escapea Latin phrase that translates to three times a day.
What does SQ mean?
SQ is an acronym for medical subepithelial, which means subcutaneous. It usually refers to an injection with a short needle that delivers the drug to the fatty tissue under the skin. For example, insulin is administered as a subcutaneous injection.
What does po on a prescription mean?
Oral route. Po or po on the prescription means the drug is taken by mouth.it is an abbreviation of latin word By operating system, which means through the mouth. Sometimes recorded orally.
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Weaver JM. Time to ditch the old-fashioned Latin abbreviations. anesthesia procedure2006;53(1):1-2. doi: 10.2344/0003-3006(2006)53[1:ITTTOO]2.0.CO;2
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Institute for Safe Medication Practice. Error-prone list of abbreviations. October 2, 2017.
- Glassman P. Making Healthcare Safer II: A New Critical Analysis of the Evidence for Patient Safety Practices. Chapter 5 Joint Committee’s “Do Not Use” Checklist: A Brief Review (New). Rockville: Evidence Reporting/Technical Assessment, No. 211, 2013.
- Kuhn, IF Abbreviations and Acronyms in Healthcare: Shorter Less Sweet. Pediatric Nursing2007 Sep-Oct;33(5):392-8.
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