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davidtrump

Medical Abbreviations on Pharmacy Prescriptions

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BID, PO, XL, APAP, QHS, or PRN: Have you ever wondered what these odd, encrypted medical abbreviations mean on your prescription? Medical terminology is difficult enough, but how do you interpret these prescription directions written in code? Luckily you don’t have to; it’s the pharmacist’s job to put the medical abbreviation in plain english on your medication label. But there may be more to know about this shorthand than meets the eye.

Apothecary prescription abbreviations, like the ones you might see written by your doctor on your prescription or a hospital medication order, can be a common source of confusion for healthcare providers, too. In fact, an unclear, poorly written or wrong medical abbreviation that leads to misinterpretation is one of the most common and preventable causes of medication errors. All abbreviations can increase the risk for incorrect interpretation and should be used with caution in the healthcare setting.

Healthcare agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), The Joint Commisssion, and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) have made it a priority to communicate information about confusing abbreviations and medical shorthands. Health care facilities and practitioners are expected to take action and set internal standards to prevent these common - and potentially dangerous - medical errors.

Don’t Computers Solve The Problem With Abbreviations?

Some of the typed or computer-generated abbreviations, prescription symbols, and dose designations can still be confused and lead to mistakes in drug dosing or timing. In addition, when these abbreviations are unclear, extra time must be spent by pharmacists or other healthcare providers trying to clarify their meanings, which can delay much-needed treatments. Historically, poor penmanship and lack of standardization was the root cause of many of the prescription errors. Today, many prescriptions are now submitted via electronic prescribing (e-prescribing), electronic medical records (EMRs), and computerized physician order entry (CPOE), which has helped to lower the rates of these medical errors. However, discrepancies between structured and free-text fields in electronic prescriptions are common and can lead to medical errors and possible patient harm.

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