Interpretation of Medication Labels and Orders

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Chapter 6

Interpretation of Medication Labels and Orders

Key Words


Interpret the following orders. Remember that this is a pretest to check your level of knowledge. The first line presented is for interpretation of the prescription and the second line is for the directions found on a prescription label for the medication provided to the patient. The dosage given should be in the appropriate dosage form.

image 1 penicillin 250 mg po qid × 10 days

image 2 nitroglycerin 0.4 mg sl q5min × 3 doses prn

image image 3 chlorothiazide 0.25 g i tab po qam prn swelling

image 4 Synthroid 0.025 mg po daily @ 8 am

image 5 Phenergan 25 mg po q4-6h prn

image 6 Premarin 1.25 mg tab po daily × 21d

image 7 Benadryl El image image po q4h prn itching

image 8 meperidine 50 mg and promethazine 25 mg IM q4-6h prn pain

image 9 Zithromax 250 mg tab ii po stat, then tab i po daily on days 2-5

image 10 Lanoxin 0.25 mg tab po qam if P 60 or ↑

Interpret the following prescriptions on the line provided.

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Medications are ordered by a physician either as a medication order in a patient medical record or on a written prescription for the patient to take to a pharmacy for dispensing. In whatever setting, the order must be read and interpreted exactly so the correct medication and its dosage can be provided for patient safety. Even if the order is a verbal order to a health care professional, the order must be transcribed into writing to create a medication record for legal purposes. Therefore, the ability to understand the components of the prescription, as well as the ability to interpret the order or prescription, is an essential skill for the health occupation professionals who work with medications on a daily basis.

Just as a reminder, because many drugs have similar-sounding or look-alike names, reading the prescription can become much like working a puzzle. If an order should be questioned in any way, the pharmacy technician should bring this to the attention of the pharmacist. The pharmacist is ultimately responsible for dispensing the medication as ordered. As a pharmacy technician, you must be sure that you stay current with new medications and new indications for older medications. As new precautions are found for medicines, you should keep these in mind. You should always remember that the highest level of patient safety is the most important aspect of dispensing medications.

Remember the knowledge of pharmacy includes the action of the medication in the body or pharmacokinetics, the therapeutic uses and effects or pharmacotherapeutics, and the adverse and toxic reactions or toxicology. Each of these must be considered as medications are dispensed to patients. As a pharmacy technician, you must be aware of the usual dosage of a drug and other possible medications being taken concurrently by the patient so that you may assist the pharmacist in attaining a high level of quality control and patient safety and help prevent drug interactions.

What Does a Prescription Indicate?

A prescription is a means for a physician or other health professional to provide the information needed by the pharmacist to dispense the desired medication for a patient in an outpatient setting. It is an order written for a specific person by a medical professional licensed to prescribe for a specific condition. The rules about who may prescribe vary from state to state, so the statutes of the state of practice determine the legalities of prescription writing. As a legal document, the prescription indicates the medication desired and the directions for its use to meet the health needs of the patient. The components of a prescription are included as a review of what is necessary for this legal document.

Figure 6-1 provides short descriptions of the parts of a prescription. The five major components are the superscription, inscription, signa (Sig), subscription and signature of the health care professional. Line A of Figure 6-1 is the preprinted name of the physician or group of physicians, the address, and phone number. Line B includes the patient’s name, address, date of the prescription, and the patient’s age if the patient is a child. Dating the prescription is important because prescriptions must be filled within 12 months of writing except with controlled substances or scheduled medications, and the refilling of prescriptions is dependent on the date. Line C is the superscription or the symbol image, meaning “recipe” or “take thou,” from Latin. The inscription, which specifies the name of the medication, its strength, and quantity of drug to be dispensed, appears on line D. If the medication must be compounded or prepared, the ingredients would appear in this location. Line E is the “Sig,” or signa, giving directions for taking the medication. The subscription, line F, tells the pharmacist the drug form, as well as how the medication is be taken. The physician’s signature appears on line G, and the number of allowed refills on Line H. Finally, if the prescription is for a controlled medication, the physician must place his or her U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) number either under or beside the signature.

Prescriptions may be written or verbal (except with Schedule II medications, which require a written signed prescription), but the legal implications are the same for both. Both means of communicating a prescription must provide identification of the patient who is to receive the medication and the amount of medicine to be received. It is the responsibility of the pharmacy technician to follow the orders. When the orders are given verbally, the order should always be repeated with the health care professional to verify the drug, the amount, and the directions to avoid errors. If a question about the prescription or medication error is noted, clarification or corrections must occur before the medication is dispensed. This clarification will require further communication with the person prescribing the drug.

Abbreviations are often used in the writing of prescriptions. Only standard abbreviations should be used. Remember that a prescription is a legal document that could appear in a court case. In those instances, “local” or nonstandard abbreviations might become an area of concern for possible misinterpretation. Abbreviations are actually medical shorthand that is used to write clear and concise orders that will be used among health care professionals. For orders to be correctly written and interpreted, the health care professional and the person dispensing the medication must understand the meaning of each abbreviation used. For commonly accepted abbreviations, see the table on the inside front cover and Chapter 1.

Practice Problems A

Interpret the following prescriptions and write the sig that would appear on a prescription label.

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What Is a Medication Order?

A medication order is a method of providing the same information as found on a prescription given to the patient, but is used in an inpatient or physician’s office environment (Figure 6-2). An exception with the medication order is that the order is written for either the number of doses or for the specific length of time for the medicine to be taken. With the medication order, the health care professional is told what drug or drugs should be administered, the strength of the medication, and the frequency to be taken. This order is a means of providing drugs at correct frequency in an inpatient setting. The medication order has six parts: date; patient name, which may appear on the patient record; medication name; dose or medication strength/form; route, time, and frequency of administration; and signature of the prescribing professional. Medication orders may be verbally communicated, but for legal purposes, each order should be transcribed onto a written form by the health care professional who accepts the order and the order must be countersigned by the health care professional who communicated the order and is licensed to prescribe medications in the state of practice.

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