Abbreviate your med list with caution

People who regularly take medicine should know what we’re taking.  To me, this seems obvious, but there are always those who need everything stated explicitly.  People taking prescriptions, vitamins, herbs, and any other treatments should know what’s being taken and why.

It’s pretty easy to make yourself a list and stick it in your wallet so that it’s always available.  If you need medical assistance (for instance, if you’re in a car wreck, or if you suddenly get sick and are taken to the emergency room), it’s great to have that list ready to hand the medics or emergency physician.

In the beginning, my list was the basic:

Abbreviate your med list with caution

I thought it was efficient to adopt standard medical abbreviations.  I’ve discovered, however, that certain assumptions accompany those abbreviations.  There are 24 hours in a day, and it makes no sense to me that “qd” means “every day” but is assumed to be “every morning.” I’m told that it does.  Why that is, nobody has explained.  One doctor told me that if you choose to take a medicine in the evening, you’d abbreviate that q pm.  Given the similarity between the way “r” and “n” run together when typed, I’d be inclined to use capital letters to avoid any chance of confusing prn/pm.

Do people ever misinterpret your meds list?  In an attempt to remove the ambiguity, I now write, “with dinner” instead of “qd” since my once-a-day prescriptions are taken with my evening meal.  I suppose, if I were travelling, I’d change that to “with supper” to avoid confusion in those parts of the country where dinner is eaten at noon.

I also added a column explaining the purpose of the medicine, and another column indicating whether the medicine is by-mouth (po), subcutaneous (sq), or a topical ointment (ung).

Abbreviate your med list with caution

I discovered a great bonus to taking once-a-day medicines with supper instead of with breakfast.  Some medical procedures require fasting.  Doctors try to balance their need for you to have an empty stomach with their desire for you to take your medications as prescribed.  If they don’t know what time of day you take your prescriptions, instructions end up being the equivalent of, “Nothing to eat or drink after midnight because it’s very important that you have an empty stomach, except you should take your dinner-time meds with a tiny sip of water at breakfast-time.”

Abbreviations are great when everyone agrees on what they mean.  With med lists, I suspect we’re better off being as clear as possible.

“WarmSocks” blogs at ∞ itis.

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  • Tami Caskey Brown

    Excellent article; thanks for the great information! I never even thought about the breakdown before, I have always just made my list general like your “beginning” list. Guess I’ve got some work to do! :)

  • Chrysalis Angel

    Love the way you have them listed.

  • Steven Reznick

    Its a shame that as a medical profession we no longer permit the latin abbreviations that were used for centuries. It is part of the standardization or dumbing down of the profession not asking doctors, pharmacists or nurses to learn the time honored traditional way of ordering medications. That being said, a medication list should list the name of the medication and spelling, the dosage, the route of administration in English ( by mouth, intravenous, injection sucutaneosly or intramuscularly) and the time of day it is administered. I ask my elderly patients to tape a sample pill next to each medication for clarity or bring the pills in their original pill bottles to each visit for review. The list should be typed if possible to avoid hand writing errors. In today’s world of electronic health records and ” meaningful use ” criteria, patients are expected to receive a clinical summary of each visit that contains their allergies and medication list. That is probably the best list available. Patients will be given a unique user ID and password and will be able to obtain this list by using a computer and logging on to their doctors ” patient portal.”  
    The patient list shown in this article is very good.

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