Watching Whats on your Prescription Form




       Before she walked out the door, your physician handed you several pieces of paper with scribblings that make Egyptian hieroglyphics easy to decipher. Now that you look at them are they supposed to be eye drops (ophthalmic), or ear drops (otic)? Are you supposed to take one tablet once a day ("q.d."), or four times a day ("q.i.d.")?
      You bring the encrypted missives to the pharmacy, where they are miraculously converted into the potions needed to make you well. But if you think you have problems deciphering the chicken scratches on the form, well, so do pharmacists. Some estimate they call physicians' offices for clarification of one out of every six prescriptions brought to them.
      Even the identity of the drug itself sometimes is miscommunicated. It is a significant enough problem that professional journals regularly include quizzes and articles to educate pharmacists about common drug mix-ups. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a nonprofit organization, provides information to health-care professionals about drugs, including "sound-alikes" and "look-alikes." Recent alerts have included several cases of Flomax (for benign prostatic hypertrophy) and Fosamax (for post-menopausal osteoporosis) being mistaken for each other. Neumega and Neupogen are both cancer treatment drugs, but one has a dosage 10 times as great as the other.
      Such opportunities for error make it a good idea to read the prescription form carefully before leaving the doctor's office to make sure it is legible, accurate and complete — and that it matches what the doctor told you.
      Here's what to look for:

  1. The physician's name, address and phone number should be pre-printed across the top.
  2. Your name (Is it your name? Is it spelled correctly?) and the date are filled in on the next line.
  3. The blank space in the middle is for the name of the medication, the dosage (number of milligrams for pills, strength for ointments or drops) and directions for taking the medication ("q.d." means once a day, "b.i.d." is twice a day, "q.i.d." is four times a day, "q.h." is every hour and "p.r.n." is as often as needed).
  4. A refill indication is provided, where the physician marks whether the prescription can be refilled and, if so, how many times.
  5. The physician's signature.
  6. In some states, there is an additional line for the physician to choose between "substitutes permitted" (meaning that a generic form of the medication may be used) or "dispense as written" (it can be filled only with the brand-name drug).

      Copy down the drug information before giving it to the pharmacist so you have something to compare with the label after you get the prescription.
      Finally, even if the drug is exactly what the doctor intended, there are still opportunities for unexpected complications. To protect yourself, report all allergies to the pharmacist. And don't forget to mention the over-the-counter medicines you take, including any herbal products. Some herbs interact with prescription drugs by increasing their effect or cancelling them out.
      The bottom line is: You are your own best advocate. Know what you are getting and why, read the label and review everything with a pharmacist before starting a new medication.



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