Pharmacy Assistant

An Intro to Prescription Interpretation for Those in Pharmacy Assistant Training

October 22, 2021

Within the healthcare industry, creating and dispensing prescriptions is both a highly specific and highly regulated process. As pharmaceutical processes and technologies have evolved, so has the way in which prescriptions are written and interpreted. If you’re launching a career as a pharmacy assistant, you’ll be responsible for a number of duties surrounding the dispensing and prescribing of drugs and medications to pharmacy patients. Under the guidance of a pharmacy technician, you’ll assist with ensuring that prescriptions are filled correctly. In order to succeed, you’ll need to be able to correctly interpret prescriptions. When you’re able to interpret prescriptions correctly, you can ensure that patients are receiving the proper dosage of a drug–helping them to safely obtain the treatment they need. Below, discover more about how to correctly interpret prescriptions throughout your career as a pharmacy assistant. 

The History of Prescriptions Explained for those in Pharmacy Assistant Training

As long as medications have been prepared to treat specific ailments, some form of prescription has always been used to specify the patient information, dosage, instructions for the patient, and more. In the past, physicians used prescriptions to instruct an apothecary on which ingredients to compound to create a specific treatment. Originally, most prescriptions were written in Latin, previously the international language of medicine. The “Rx” symbol is derived from Latin, and refers to the word for a medieval prescription, recipere, meaning “take thou.” However, over time, modern prescriptions have evolved to be entered within an electronic medical record system, where they can be sent to a pharmacy electronically. After completing your pharmacy assistant training, you’ll also occasionally still see prescriptions written by hand by a physician, or printed.

Prescriptions have been used for as long as medical treatments have been dispensed

What is Included in a Prescription Label? A Brief Overview

Today, prescription labels include four common sections: a superscription, an inscription, a subscription, and a signature. The superscription section is what contains the patient information, such as their age, address, and name. It also contains what date the prescription was created. Next, the inscription section is denoted by the “Rx” symbol. This section tells the reader what the medication is, including the key ingredients such as the chief ingredient, the adjuvant (what helps the ingredient to act quickly), the corrective (reduces side effects), and the vehicle (eases the consumption of the drug). For those completing a pharmacy assistant course, it will be important to check the subscription section, as this is where the physician will give directions for dispensing the medication, including how it should be compounded and what quantities should be dispensed. Lastly, the signature section tells the patient how to take the medication.

Prescription labels typically include four different sections

Abbreviations Commonly Used in Prescriptions

Another aspect of interpreting prescriptions is understanding the abbreviations commonly used in them. Derived from Latin, abbreviations are not always used in prescriptions, but there are a few frequently-used ones which are helpful to know. 

  • Ad lib: “ad libidum” meaning to take as much as one needs
  • A.m.: “ante meridium” meaning to take before noon
  • Cap.: “capsula” meaning capsule
  • NMT: meaning “not more than”
  • Ppt: meaning prepared
  • w/f: meaning take with food

These abbreviations help physicians to efficiently dictate instructions to pharmacy technicians, who can then translate the prescription to patients if needed. As a pharmacy assistant, you’ll support technicians in interpreting prescriptions as such, and dispensing the proper medication to the patient.

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