A prescription (℞) is a health-care program implemented by a physician or other medical practitioner in the form of instructions that govern the plan of care for an individual patient. Prescriptions may include orders to be performed by a patient, caretaker, nurse, pharmacist or other therapist. Commonly, the term prescription is used to mean an order to take certain medications. Prescriptions have legal implications, as they may indicate that the prescriber takes responsibility for the clinical care of the patient and in particular for monitoring efficacy and safety. However, as medications have increasingly become pre–packaged manufactured products and medical practice has become more complex, the scope of meaning of the term "prescription" has broadened to also include clinical assessments, laboratory tests, and imaging studies relevant to optimizing the safety or efficacy.
Format and definition
Prescriptions are handwritten on preprinted prescription forms that are assembled into pads, or alternatively printed onto similar forms using a computer printer. Preprinted on the form is text that identifies the document as a prescription, the name and address of the prescribing provider and any other legal requirement such as a registration number (e.g. DEA Number in the United States). Unique for each prescription is the name of the patient. In the United Kingdom the patient's name and address must also be recorded. Each prescription is dated and some jurisdictions may place a time limit on the prescription . There is the specific "recipe" of the medication and the directions for taking it.
Template:Unicode is a symbol meaning "prescription". It is sometimes transliterated as "Rx" or just "Rx". There are various theories about the origin of this symbol - some note its similarity to the Eye of Horus , others to the ancient symbol for Jupiter, both gods whose protection may have been sought in medical contexts. Alternatively, it may be intended as an abbreviation of the Latin "recipe" , the imperative form of "recipere", "to take or take thus", and it is quite possible that more than one of these factors influenced its form. Literally, "Recipe" means simply "Take...." and when a medical practitioner writes a prescription beginning with "Template:Unicode", he or she is completing the command. This was probably originally directed at the pharmacist who needed to take a certain amount of each ingredient to compound the medicine, rather than at the patient who must "take" the medicine, in the sense of consuming it. The word "prescription" can be decomposed into "pre" and "script" and literally means, "to write before" a drug can be prepared. Those within the industry will often call prescriptions simply "scripts". Another theory exists that the "Template:Unicode" may have originally been a "Px", where the "P" is short for "pre", and the "x" is short for "script".
Both pharmacists and prescribers are regulated professions in most jurisdictions. A prescription as a communications mechanism between them is also regulated and is a legal document.
Regulations may define what constitutes a prescription, the contents and format of the prescription (including the size of the piece of paper - see Exhibit C paragraph 10) and how prescriptions are handled and stored by the pharmacist. Many jurisdictions will now allow faxed or phone prescriptions containing the same information. Exhibit A below illustrates the legal definition of a prescription.
Many brand name drugs have less expensive generic drug substitutes that are therapeutically equivalent. Prescriptions will also contain instructions on whether the prescriber will allow the pharmacist to substitute a generic version of the drug. This instruction is communicated in a number of ways.
In some jurisdictions, the preprinted prescription contains two signature lines: one line has "dispense as written" printed underneath; the other line has "substitution permitted" underneath. Some have a preprinted box "dispense as written" for the prescriber to check off (but this is easily checked off by anyone with access to the prescription). Other jurisdictions the protocol is for the prescriber to handwrite one of the following phrases: "dispense as written", "DAW", "brand necessary", "do not substitute", "no substitution", "medically necessary", "do not interchange". In other jurisdictions may they use completely different languages, never mind a different formula of words. In some jurisdictions, it may be a legal requirement to include the age of child on the prescription . For pediatric prescriptions some advise the inclusion of the age of the child if the patient is less than twelve and the age and months if less than five. (In general, including the age on the prescription is helpful.) Adding the weight of the child is also helpful.
Prescriptions often have a "label" box . When checked, pharmacist is instructed to label the medication. When not checked, the patient only receives instructions for taking the medication and no information about the prescription itself.
Some prescribers further inform the patient and pharmacist by providing the indicator for the medication; i.e. what is being treated. This assists the pharmacist in checking for errors as many common medications can be used for multiple medical conditions.
Some prescriptions will specify whether and how many "repeats" or "refills" are allowed; that is whether the patient may obtain more of the same medication without getting a new prescription from the medical practitioner. Regulations may restrict some types of drugs from being refilled.
In group practices, the preprinted portion of the prescription may contain multiple prescribers' names. Prescribers typically circle themselves to indicate who is prescribing or there may be a checkbox next to their name.
When filled by a pharmacist, as a matter of business practice, the pharmacist may write certain information right on the prescription. This may also be mandated by legislation (see Exhibit D). Information such as the actual manufacturer of the drug and the date the medication was dispensed may be written right onto the prescription. Legislation may require the pharmacist sign the prescription. In computerized pharmacies, all such information is printed and stapled to the prescription. Sometimes such information is printed onto labels and the labels affixed right onto the prescription.
When filled by the pharmacist, prescriptions are typically assigned a "prescription number" (often abbreviated "Rx#" in the US) that is unique to the pharmacy that filled the prescription. The prescription number is written right on the prescription by the pharmacist. The prescription number has the practical purpose of uniquely identifying the prescription later on while filed (both manual and electronic). The prescription number is also put on the label on the dispensed medication. The patient may be required to reference the prescription number for refills and drug insurance claims. There may also be a legal requirement for prescription numbers for subsequent identification purposes.
As a legal document, some jurisdictions will mandate the archiving of the original paper prescription in the pharmacy. Often the patient cannot take the original prescription with them. Some jurisdictions may entitle patients to a copy. The retention period varies but can be as long as six years. See Exhibit B for sample legislation governing the archiving of prescriptions. Once the retention period has passed, privacy legislation may dictate what can be done with the original paper prescription. Legislation may also dictate what happens to the prescriptions if the pharmacy closes or is sold. For example, if the pharmacy goes out of business, the pharmacist may be required to return the prescription to the patient, to the next closest pharmacy or to the governing body for pharmacists.
Prescriptions for non-narcotic drugs may also be "transferred" from one pharmacy to another for subsequent repeats to be dispensed from another pharmacy. The physical piece of paper that is the prescription is not transferred, but all the information on it is transferred from one pharmacy to another. Legislation may dictate the protocol by which the transfer occurs and whether the transfer needs to be noted on the original paper prescription.
It is estimated that 3 billion (3 thousand million) prescriptions were written in the United States in 2002. This number has grown from 1.5 billion in 1989 and is expected to continue to grow.
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