Reading prescriptions doesn’t take any magical powers, although it may seem that way if you’ve tried to read one. If you can read the writing, you could be confused with the abbreviations and use of Latin. Who reads Latin these days anyway?

To be fair, the whole prescription isn’t written in Latin – just the abbreviations. So you might read something like, “Take 2 tabs po BID prn.” Luckily, the pharmacist will understand, but it’s important that you understand too, to reduce the risk of errors.

Medication errors can occur anywhere along the chain from prescription to consumption. The doctor may write the wrong drug or dosage. The pharmacist may mix up the medications. You may misunderstand and take the wrong dose or take the drug the wrong way. By understanding your prescription, this helps keep you safer.

Check your prescription before you leave the office or hospital

It’s natural to want to get out of the doctor’s or nurse practitioner’s office quickly and make room for the next patient, but if you get a prescription, it’s important that you not take it and run. Look at the prescription and review it. Read it out loud and ask for confirmation. Ask what the prescription means in plain English. If you’re being discharged from the hospital, it will be a nurse or a discharge planner. They should be able to review your prescription with you.

If the prescription was sent electronically to a pharmacy, ask for a copy so you can review it.

At the pharmacy

It’s true that doctors know a lot about the medications they prescribe, but pharmacists are the medication specialists. When picking up your prescription, speak with your pharmacist again about the drug, dosage and how you should take it. If it doesn’t sound like what the doctor told you, mention this to the pharmacist so the prescription can be double checked. If you’re taking any over-the-counter medications, supplements or nutritional products, ask if there may be any interactions between them and the new prescription.

Pharmacists, as front-line healthcare professionals, are also a good resource if you’re experiencing mild side effects or are having difficulty taking your medication. They can offer suggestions that might help.

Oh, and what does “Take 2 tabs po BID prn” mean? Take 2 tablets twice a day as needed.

This information was gathered from the book: Just the Right Dose: Your Smart Guide to Prescription Drugs & How to Take Them Safely, by Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN.