Abbreviating Med Lists

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:

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).

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.

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4 thoughts on “Abbreviating Med Lists

  1. Thanks for the reminder about keeping a med list in my wallet, Socks. It’s one of those things I’ll think of, but never quite get around to. I probably wouldn’t use the medical terms (I didn’t know them until you explained them in this post) but it IS smart to include the times of day we take our meds, and for what.

    You’re so incredibly organized! What would people like me DO without people like you? ;)

    I hope you’re feeling well, Socks. Been thinking of you.

  2. WS,
    Thanks for the helpful tip for all concerned. As a Family Physician, I always appreciate these lists. They are useful when people go to specialists and emergency rooms, too. The lists also prevent misunderstandings or wrongful prescribing by physicians. Thanks for enhancing patient safety with this helpful reminder. Dr J

  3. Those lists are *SO* useful. If I took any medicine regularly, I would keep a list like that in my wallet – I’m sure we’re all competent enough to remember our medications, but after all, we don’t buy umbrellas for sunny days.

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