Prescription Writing

Written by Patricia Tunstall
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Prescription writing is one of the most important communications between doctor and patient. Indeed, this is an interaction that has its roots in ancient times, as shown by the vestiges of Latin phrasing and abbreviations that show up in modern prescriptions. At some time in the distant past, it was critical to have one unifying language so therapeutic communication could be understood despite local and regional variations of language. The only possibility for a universal language was Latin, so it became the bridge of communication among medical practitioners.

Latin in Modern Prescriptions

In fact, Latin was used consistently in prescriptions until about a generation ago. Some reminders of the linguistic origins of prescription writing still remain. Recipere is Latin for "to take." The imperative form of this verb is now our English word "recipe," but in Latin it means "take thou." "Rx" is the abbreviation for this command.

Signatura, abbreviated "sig" in prescriptions, comes from the Latin signa, which means "write" or "label." This section of a prescription gives the instructions to the patient, but these often contain Latin abbreviations, which the pharmacist must translate into English in order to make an understandable label for the medication container. A physician might write, "1 cap t.i.d. pc," which translates as, "take one capsule three times daily after meals."

This vestigial language just adds another possibility for misreading or misunderstanding of the prescription. There is no good reason for prescriptions not to be produced in English. In ePrescribing, digital processing of prescriptions creates instantly readable prescriptions that are clear to all parties.


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