Doctor’s Prescription – How to Read It

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You may have seen abbreviations on prescriptions such as q.i.d. or b.i.d. and wondered what that meant. These and other instructions are written in abbreviations for Latin phrases.

Centuries ago, all prescriptions were written in Latin. Now, only the directions for taking the drug have kept that trait. For the average person with no medical background, they don’t mean anything.

While your pharmacy should interpret those for you, mistakes can happen. The better you understand the directions, the more protected you are from a potentially dangerous error.

Doctor’s Prescription – How to Read It

To the untrained eye, prescriptions can be pretty hard to decipher. The various notations used on prescriptions have very specific meanings.

Let’s consider a hypothetical prescription for penicillin written as follows:

Rx Cap Amoxicillin 500mg tds x 1/52

  • Rx – prescription
  • Cap – Capsule
  • Amoxicillin – name of drug
  • 500mg – strength of the drug
  • tds – frequency of drug
  • 1/52 – duration

Here is what the notation on this prescription means:

Cap Amoxicillin 500mg tds x 1/52
  • The medication is Amoxicillin and your doctor ordered one 500 milligram (mg).
  • The “tds” means to be used 3 times each day, i.e  morning, afternoon and night.
  • The 1/52 means 1 week or  7 days.

Medications can be in any of the following:

  • Tab:  tablet,
  • Syr: Syrup,
  • Supp: suppository,
  • Susp: Suspension,
  • IV: intravenous,
  • IM: Intra-muscular

Frequency of drug:

  • Rx for Prescription
  • nocte – at night only,
  • dly or qd – every day or once daily,
  • bd or bid (bis in die) means “twice a day”
  • tds or tid (ter in die) means “three times a day”
  • qds or qid (quater in die) means “four times a day”
  • 3qh or 3hly mean every 3 hours,
  • gt (gutta) means “drop”
  • nocte or hs (hora somni) means “at bedtime”
  • od (oculus dexter) means “right eye”
  • os (oculus sinister) means “left eye”
  • po (per os) means “by mouth”
  • pc (post cibum) means “after meals”
  • ac (ante cibum) means “before meals”
  • prn (pro re nata) means “as needed”
  • q3h (quaque 3 hora) means “every three hours”
  • Sig (signa) means “write”

Strength of the drug

  • Mg – milligram
  • G- gram,
  • Mls- milliliters
  • L-litre


  • 1/7 – 1 day, 2/7- 2 days , 5/7 – 5 days 7/7 – 7 days   –                        There are 7 days in a weeks
  • 7/7 or 1/52 for 1 week, 2/52 for 2 weeks, 4/52 for 4 weeks etc –   There are 52 weeks in a year
  • 4/52 or 1/12 for 1 month, 2/12 for 2 months etc.                              There are 12 months in a year
Using the information noted on this prescription, the pharmacist will provide Amoxicillin capsule  with label directions indicating that 1 tablet of the medication should be taken three times each day for seven days.

It is important to learn how to decipher your physician’s prescription. Doing so will help you avoid a medication error and give you better insight into your treatment. You can always ask your pharmacist to interpret a prescription for you. Physicians may use various abbreviations combining Latin and English, and your pharmacist may be familiar with your doctor’s style.

Other Notations Found on Prescriptions

Here are some other notations commonly found on prescriptions:

  • PO means orally
  • QD means once a day
  • BID means twice a day
  • QHS means before bed
  • Q4H means every 4 hours
  • QOD means every other day
  • PRN means as needed
  • q.t.t. means drops
  • OD means in the right eye (think eye drops)
  • OS means in the left eye (think eye drops)
  • OU means in both eyes (think eye drops)
  • a.c. means before a meal
  • p.c. means after a meal
  • IM means intramuscularly (injection)
  • Subq means subcutaneous (injection)
  • IV means intravenous (injection)
You may see a symbol on your script that looks like a “T” with a dot at the top of it. This abbreviation means one pill. There may be one to 4 Ts with dots at the top of them signifying one to 4 pills.

Declining Use of Abbreviations

While the Latin terms are still commonly seen on prescriptions, some doctors are gradually retiring the use of these old terms and better clarifying their drug orders in plain language.

Several years ago, since improved readability helps prevent medication mix-ups, it was recommended that prescribers write out instructions rather than use ambiguous abbreviations.

For example, prescribers would write “daily” rather than qd, the abbreviated Latin term for “every day.” In this case, qd could easily be misinterpreted as qid (which means four times a day) or od (which means right eye).

And as mentioned above, there is e-prescribing (electronic prescribing) which adds another level of improvement to the clarity of prescribing medications.

A Word From OshoBaba

If you are still issued a written prescription and the directions are unclear or confusing, ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain.

Do not take your medication without fully understanding the prescribing instructions. Take no chances.

With e-prescribing, you may not see the directions until they appear on a pill bottle label. At that point, it is your responsibility to ask your pharmacist any questions you have or to verbally review the directions.

Take the necessary time so that you can feel certain about how you are to take the prescribed drug.

Do your part to avoid medication errors.

Its your right to be involved and be informed in all aspects of your medical care including understanding what’s written on your prescriptions.

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