Prescription Writing: Key Elements, Abbreviations, and Best Practices for Healthcare Professionals

Have you ever been unsure about how to decipher a prescription after visiting a doctor?

You’re not the only one facing this challenge. Numerous individuals find it challenging to comprehend the hastily scribbled and often illegible handwriting of doctors.

Follow along as we discuss the common prescription abbreviations and what pharm techs and pharmacist mean when they write 1 x 2 (1*2) or 2 x 1 (2*1).

Upon entering a pharmacy, you’ll likely observe that medications are categorized into two types: Prescription-only medicines (POM), which are stored behind the counter in a secure cabinet or room accessible only by a pharmacist or pharmaceutical technologist, and Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, which can be directly obtained from the shelves

Over the counter medicines do not require prescriptions and can be easily obtained by help of a healthcare advisor, pharmaceutical technologist or pharmacist.

What is a prescription?

A prescription is a written order from a licensed medical practitioner, such as a doctor, pharmacist or a nurse practitioner, that authorizes a patient to receive a specific medication, treatment, or medical device. It includes information such as the name and dosage of the medication, the route of administration, and the frequency and duration of the treatment.

An ideal prescription should contain the following key elements;

  • Name and contact information of the prescriber (doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant)
  • Date of the prescription
  • Name of the patient for whom the medication is prescribed
  • Dosage instructions for the medication
  • Strength and quantity of the medication
  • Route of administration (how the medication should be taken, such as by mouth, injection, etc.)
  • Frequency of administration (how often the medication should be taken)
  • Duration of treatment (how long the medication should be taken)
  • Any special instructions or precautions for taking the medication
  • Signature of the prescriber

Examples of prescription from prescribers in Kenya

Hand-written prescription

Printed prescription

Text prescription

Modern prescriptions will look something like below;

Dr. Wafula
23 Ralph Bunche Street
Nairobi, Kenya

Date: April 6, 2023

Patient: Rose Otieno
DOB: [insert date of birth]

Medication: Amoxicillin 500mg
Quantity: 30 tablets
Dosage: Take 1 tablet by mouth twice daily for 10 days
Route: Oral
Frequency: Twice daily
Duration: 10 days

Special instructions: Take with food to reduce stomach upset.

Signature: [Dr. Wafula's signature]

How prescriptions are interpreted.

There are several steps that pharmacists and pharmaceutical technologist follow to ensure a prescription is filled without making mistakes.

Read How to Dispense a Prescription in 5 Easy Steps.

When your get a prescription from a medical practitioner you are likely to see this;

Tabs Paracetamol 500mg tds 5/7

This means one tablet of 500mg paracetamol is taken three times daily for five days.

Below is a prescription structure with details showing what every part means.

DescriptionFormulationName of drugStrengthFrequencyDuration
Components of a prescription

This can be elaborated or explained as;

Formulation: This refers to the type of medication, such as a tablet, capsule, liquid, or injection.

Name of drug: This is the specific name of the medication prescribed by the doctor.

Strength: This indicates the amount of the active ingredient in the medication, which can vary depending on the specific dosage prescribed.

Frequency: This specifies how often the medication should be taken, such as once or twice a day.

Duration of treatment: This indicates how long the patient should continue taking the medication before following up with their doctor for further evaluation or adjustments to their treatment plan.

Here are some common prescription abbreviations along with their brief descriptions:

  • od – once daily
  • qd – every day
  • bid or bd – twice a day
  • tid or td – three times a day
  • qid or qd – four times a day
  • hs / nocte – at bedtime or before sleep
  • pc – after meals
  • ac – before meals
  • prn – as needed
  • po – by mouth
  • IV – intravenous (into a vein)
  • IM – intramuscular (into a muscle)
  • SC or SQ – subcutaneous (under the skin)
  • GTT – drops
  • Ung/ oint – ointment
  • tab – tablet
  • cap – capsule
  • susp – suspension
  • soln – solution
  • inj – injection
  • sup – suppository

That is what we typically see when doctors write prescriptions: hasty, scrawled notes that can be difficult to read and understand. (However, pharmacists and pharmaceutical technologist are trained to interpret and decipher these notes to ensure that patients receive the appropriate medication and dosage)

Once the prescription has been thoroughly checked, the pharmacist or pharmaceutical technologist can then generate a prescription label that provides clear and easy-to-understand instructions for the patient on how to take the medication.

Interpreting the instructions on a prescription label can be challenging at times.

Below are some of the most frequent prescription label instructions that patients may encounter.

How to interpret prescription labels

1×1 prescription meaning

One tablet or capsule is taken once daily

That is;

The medication should be taken once a day, typically at the same time each day. Every 24 hours.

This is also written on prescriptions with the abbreviation od.

Example: levofloxacin od 1/52

1×2 prescription meaning

One tablet or capsule to be taken twice daily

This means that the medication should be taken two times a day, usually about 12 hours apart, such as in the morning and evening.

This is what is written on prescriptions with the abbreviations (bid or bd)

Example: Cefuroxime 500mg bd 5/7

2×1 prescription meaning

Two tablets or capsules to be taken once daily.

This is written as below on prescriptions;

Secnidazole 500mg II od 3/7

1×3 prescription meaning

One tablet or capsule three times daily

This means that the medication should be taken three times a day, usually at regular intervals, such as in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

This is what is written on a prescription with the abbreviations (tid or td).

Example: Paracetamol 1gm tds 5/7

1×4 prescription meaning

One tablet four times a day

This means that the medication should be taken four times a day, usually at regular intervals, such as in the morning, afternoon, evening, and before bed.

This is usually written on the prescriptions with the abbreviations Four (qid or qd)

Example: Flucloxacillin 500mg qid 5/7


When you are not sure about how your prescribed medicine are to be taken, always refer back to your pharmacist or pharmaceutical technologist.

Also other healthcare professionals, such as doctors, and nurses, are also valuable sources of information about prescriptions and can provide guidance and answer questions.

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