Three Prescription Tips

January 18, 2013
prescription tips

What do all those funny shapes mean? (Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/

If you are caring for aging parents or other loved ones with medical needs, you likely are intimately involved with managing their medications. You get the prescription from the doctor, probably are told by the physician what it is, get the prescription filled, pick it up from the pharmacist, and add it to the schedule of treatments. Medications are a huge part of caring for many loved ones and a big responsibility. Here are a few things it’s good to know about prescriptions.

Those funny squiggles mean something

There are countless jokes about how bad doctors’ handwriting can be, but often what seems like a jumble of letters is really an abbreviation. These are a few of the common abbreviations that you might find on your prescriptions:

  • Sig – It basically means, “write the following,” and it’s followed by what the pharmacist is preparing and what is supposed to be put on the label.
  • DAW – This means “Dispense as Written” and may be neatly printed on the prescription pad rather than handwritten. If something is marked DAW, it’s basically telling the pharmacist not to substitute a generic drug instead of the brand name one that the doctor is prescribing.
  • Po – This indicates that the medicine should be taken by mouth.
  • Bid – This indicates that the medicine should be taken twice a day.
  • Tid – This indicates that the medicine should be taken three times a day.
  • Qid – This indicates that the medicine should be taken four times a day.
  • Q 3 h – This indicates that the medicine should be taken every three hours.
  • Prn – This indicates that the medicine is to be taken as needed.

Compare those squiggles to the label

It’s important to know what those abbreviations mean because it’s always a good idea to check the label on your filled prescription bottle or package to make sure that the pharmacist has filled it correctly. Pharmacists tend to be very, very careful, but sometimes mistakes do happen. So always check to make sure you have received the right medicine and that the other information – such as how often it should be taken – is the same as what the doctor wrote.

Be prepared for generic

If the pharmacist gives you a generic version of the drug that was prescribed, double check with your doctor to make sure that’s okay, even if he did not write “DAW” on the prescription itself. It’s even better if you ask your doctor when he first gives you the prescription so that you know in advance. If your insurance company does not cover the brand name drug, or if it comes with an expensive co-pay, ask your doctor if a generic version is acceptable. In many instances, generic drugs are equally as effective as brand name drugs; however, there are some instances in which a doctor may feel strongly that a generic may not work as well for your loved one’s situation.

Caring for aging parents and others has both its challenges and rewards, but it always has responsibilities.

Writer, Craig Butler

Craig Butler has been writing on a wide range of topics for more than fifteen years. As the National Communications Director for the Cooley's Anemia Foundation, Craig regularly writes on a range of health and medical topics. Among the many projects he has written for the Foundation is the Cooley's Anemia Storybook, a collection of original short stories for children with the blood disorder Cooley's Anemia. His freelance work has ranged from reviewing moves and CDs to creating entertainment-related stories about baldness, to creating text for comic strips. Craig looks forward to having a dialogue with you about senior care and issues of concern.

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