Prescription Shorthand: Yes, Your Pharmacist Understands It

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We do not get to read prescriptions too often these days thanks to electronic delivery. Yet some of us remember when prescriptions were handwritten on prescription pads. Many of us also remember seeing prescription shorthand we did not understand. That shorthand still exists despite modern prescriptions being submitted electronically. And yes, your pharmacist understands it.

Prescription shorthand is like any other form of shorthand. It exists to make writing prescriptions easier and more efficient. But if you do not know what the words and abbreviations mean, you could find yourself in a world of hurt. Fortunately, pharmacists learn all that stuff in school. They know exactly what your doctor means when he writes something like ‘bid’.

It is All Latin to You

Nearly all prescription shorthand is rooted in Latin. This is no accident. The history of Western medicine is such that a significant percentage of all medical terms are derived from Latin. Take Rx, for example. The term does not mean ‘prescription’. It is actually Latin for ‘recipe’. A prescription is more or less a medication recipe.

Here are some of the more common Latin terms found in prescriptions, along with the appropriate shorthand:

  • Ante cibum (ac) – This tells the pharmacist to label your medication with language that says it should be taken just before you eat.
  • Bis in die (bid) – A phrase that means ‘twice a day’.
  • Capsula (cap) – This one is easy to decipher for most people. It is a note that tells the pharmacist to fill the prescription in capsule form.
  • Hora somni (hs) – If your doctor wants you to take your medication at bedtime, he will utilize this Latin phrase.
  • Post cibum (pc) – The opposite of ante cibum. This designation stipulates you take your medication immediately following a meal.
  • Pilula (pil) – Similar to the ‘cap’ shorthand, ‘pil’ tells the pharmacist to fill the prescription in pill form.

This is just a small sampling of prescription shorthand and the Latin phrases from which it is derived. Studying the topic further is fascinating if you are into that sort of thing. If not, just be grateful your pharmacist understands the shorthand.

Latin Is Latin

One of the benefits of using a system derived from Latin is its universal nature. You essentially create a recognized standard when you teach doctors and pharmacists to use it. The pharmacist down at your local supermarket pharmacy understands the shorthand just as much as the online pharmacist who works for Canada Pharmacy. It is all Latin to all of them. They all get it.

The only difficulty with the system is trying to interpret poor handwriting by doctors. That is not much of an issue in North America these days, because everything is done electronically. But there are still places in the world where prescriptions are written by hand.

A doctor in a hurry can scribble ‘pc’ to designate taking the medication after a meal. But if he is not careful, his ‘p’ can actually look like an ‘a’ to the pharmacist. The result would be a label that instructs the medicine be taken before meals. It may not be a deadly error but taking the medication before meals will at least interfere with its effectiveness.

If you ever have the chance to see another prescription written by hand or generated by a computer printer, take a look at the shorthand. You might be able to recognize some of the symbols due to their obvious nature. Chances are that you will not understand most of them. That’s okay, just so long as your pharmacist does.