backup og meta
Health Screening
Ask Doctor

How to Read a Prescription Properly

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Pharmacology

Updated Nov 23, 2020

How to Read a Prescription Properly

We have all gotten sick some time in our life and went to get a check-up. After the check-up, the doctor provided a piece of paper with names of medications. This is called a prescription and it is more than just any piece of paper. Here, we will discuss how to read prescription and drug labels.

How to read a prescription (paano magbasa ng reseta ng doktor?)

A prescription, or “reseta”, is typically a white piece of paper with a large symbol printed on it. There are several essential parts of a prescription.

Without these parts, the prescription is considered invalid and you cannot get your medicines from the pharmacy.

The parts of a prescription include the following:

  1. Superscription
  2. Inscription
  3. Subscription
  4. Signa
  5. Prescriber’s information

The superscription

This part of the prescription includes information about the patient. It requires the full name of the patient, their address, sex, and age or date of birth. The patient’s weight may also be included here, as it may be used to calculate the dose of certain drugs.

The superscription is found at the top portion of the paper. The importance of the superscription is to ensure that the pharmacist is dispensing the right medication to the right person.

If you are filling a prescription on behalf of someone else, like your elderly family members, you will need to show proof. Having a signed authorization letter and government ID may be needed to fill the prescription.

In some cases, the pharmacy may not dispense certain drugs unless you are the owner of the prescription. This is especially true for dangerous or controlled drugs like opioid painkillers.

Interesting fact:

The symbol comes from the Latin word “recipere”, which is closely translated as “to take or receive”. The word recipe also comes from this word. 

In the past, pharmacists were known as chemists or apothecaries and the “recipes” were used to make or compound medicines from scratch.

Today, some doctors prescribe medications that require compounding and reconstitution. The compounding instructions are in the prescription.

The inscription

This is the body or main part of the prescription. The inscription contains the name of the drugs and their respective strengths.

By Philippine law, under RA 6675, all prescriptions must contain the generic name of the drug. A brand name is allowed, but it must come after the generic name and be enclosed in parentheses.

If your doctor has written you a prescription without the generic name, you should remind him/her to include it.

This also makes it easier to purchase the medications in the pharmacy, as not all pharmacies carry branded drugs.

The subscription

The pharmacist needs to read the subscription to know how many tablets or capsules need to be dispensed. Sometimes, this part is written with the inscription.

In some cases, there will be additional instructions to the pharmacist. They may need to compound or reconstitute certain medications before giving it to you.

how to read a prescription

The signa

This part of the prescription is important for you as a patient. The signa is where the doctor places instructions the patient needs to follow. An example of this would be, “Take one tablet once a day before bedtime”.

Although the use of Roman numerals and Latin abbreviations is common in medical practice, it should be avoided. If your prescription has these, ask your doctor or pharmacist to clarify. To prevent errors, abbreviations should not be used. How to read prescription medical abbreviations:

  • o.d. =  once daily or one time a day
  • b.i.d, bid, or BID = twice daily or two times a day
  • t.i.d., tid, or TID = thrice daily or three times a day
  • OU, OS, OD = both eyes, left eye, right eye (respectively)
  • AU, AS, AD = both ears, left ear, right ear (respectively)
  • gtts = drops
  • mL = milliliters
  • mg = milligrams
  • tsp. = teaspoon
  • tbsp. = tablespoon
  • Prescriber’s information

    This is the last portion of the prescription. Here, the doctor’s full name, professional tax receipt (PTR) number, and PRC license number should be clearly printed. There should also be a signature of the doctor in order to make the prescription official. 

    Prescriptions that do not have these cannot be filled by a pharmacist. If your doctor forgot to sign your prescription, you should request for it to be signed.

    Additionally, the name, specialty, hospital or clinic name, address, and contact number may be included. A logo is optional. Typically, you can find this information above the superscription.

    Yellow prescriptions

    In most cases, doctors use white prescription pads. If a doctor needs to prescribe a dangerous drug (e.g. zolpidem), it needs to be written on a yellow prescription. In addition to the parts mentioned above, the doctor should also have a S2 license number printed on the prescription. 

    There are three copies of a yellow prescription. The original copy belongs to the pharmacy that filled your prescription. The patients keeps one of the duplicate carbon copies. The last copy belongs to the doctor who prescribed the drug.

    Key takeaways of how to read a prescription

    Prescriptions are important documents that doctors write for their patients. To be valid, these must be completely and accurately filled out.

    Do not give your prescription to another person unless they have an authorization letter and a valid ID from you. The purpose of a prescription is to give instructions to you and the pharmacist and it is also a legal document for record keeping.

    Learn more about drugs and supplements, here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Written by

    Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD


    Updated Nov 23, 2020

    ad iconadvertisement

    Was this article helpful?

    ad iconadvertisement
    ad iconadvertisement