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Medically reviewed by, Russell Braun RPH
You just had a visit with your doctor and she wrote you a prescription. On the way to the pharmacy you look at it and wonder what is scribbled after the name of the drug. Will the pharmacist understand what you just discussed with your doctor during your rushed office visit?
What the heck does 1 PO Qhs mean?
Medical abbreviations like Qhs may seem like a way for doctor and pharmacist to communicate to confuse patients. Luckily, that is not the intent. Instead it is a short hand your doctor can use to prevent them from having to write out the full words.
These odd abbreviations refer to the administration of the medication. They may seem like encrypted code, but never fear. The free resource waiting for you at the pharmacy (your pharmacist) will interpret these abbreviations and put it into simple directions you can understand.
1. Why do medical abbreviations exist in the first place?
Doctors have been known to have bad handwriting. In addition, they are busy seeing patients and therefore short on time. These are a few reasons why shorthand ways of communicating prescription information to pharmacists exist.
Most abbreviations used on prescriptions come from the Latin language. They are actually abbreviations of Latin words.
How to understand your prescription
Prescriptions written by your doctor will have certain information that is required by law before a pharmacist can fill it. These include things like your doctors name, license, address and phone number. The doctor must also include information about the medication being prescribed such as:
- Name of the medication
- Medication dosage
- How frequently to take the medication
- What route of administration to take the medication
- When to take the medication
Medication abbreviations may be used for several of these components. Finally, the prescription must also indicate a quantity and number of refills the doctor is authorizing.
You can be a proactive patient and try to confirm what the doctor told you during your office visit. The way to do that is to refer to the table below that lists QHS medical abbreviation along with others commonly used. Knowing these helps you prevent miscommunication between the doctor, pharmacy and how you actually take the medication.
2. What does Qhs mean in medical terms?
The simplest way to understand Qhs medical abbreviation and others is to break it down. The Q comes from the Latin word quaque, which means each or also.
In terms of a prescription Q stands for each or every.
That leaves hs, which comes from the Latin word hora somni, which means bedtime.
On the prescription hs also stands for bedtime.
Therefore, when you put them together Qhs means “every bedtime” or “each bedtime.” Certain medications should be taken at bedtime either to prevent drowsiness during waking hours, to induce sleep or another reason.
3. What is PO QHS PRN?
As we already explained the QHS stands for every bedtime. What the heck does PO and PRN mean?
Once again this comes from Latin where p.o. stands for per os, which equals by mouth or orally.
This is based on the Latin word pro re nata, meaning when circumstances require or as needed.
Therefore, PO QHS PRN translates to “take by mouth at bedtime as needed.“
4. Other commonly use medical abbreviations
The table below provides some of the most commonly used medical abbreviations that you may see on your prescription(s).
|bid||twice a day|
|qod||every other day|
|q6h||every 6 hours|
|qid||four times a day|
|tid||three times a day|
5. Prescription example
Here is a breakdown of what a common prescription to take to the pharmacy may look like.
1 po qhs
#30 3 rf
Lipitor – This is the drug name, Liptior is a commonly used cholesterol medication.
20mg – This is the strength of the drug requested. Lipitor comes in several strengths.
1 po qhs – This means take 1 tablet by mouth every night at bedtime.
#30 – Refers to the quantity to fill which is 30 tablets.
3 rf – Refills are allowed 3 times before a new prescription is required.
6. Medications commonly taken at bedtime
Wondering why a doctor might prescribe your medication to be taken at bedtime?
There are many reasons but most have to do with the medication causing drowsiness. If taken in the morning this could be viewed as a side effect. Conversely, if taken at bedtime this becomes a positive medication effect to help induce sleep. In fact, millions of dollars a year are spent on medication specifically used for sleep.
The table shows some common classes of drugs that are taken at bedtime and reasons why.
|Class of drug||Reasons for bedtime use|
|Allergy medication||Cause drowsiness|
Help with sleep when allergies flare
|Anxiety medications||Cause drowsiness|
Cause unsteadiness on feet
Cause unsteadiness of feet
|Some Blood pressure drugs||Some people have nighttime blood pressure spikes|
|Certain Diabetes drugs||Some people have nighttime blood sugar spikes|
|Melatonin||For circadian rhythm, naturally released at night|
In addition to the classes of drugs listed above certain medications are specifically called sleeping pills. In medical terms they would be called sedative hypnotics because they promote calming and induce or prolong sleep. Some common prescription sleeping pills are listed below by brand and generic name.
|Brand name||Generic name|
7. Ways to prevent errors from medication abbreviations
Latin shorthand can be a great way to save time for doctors. However, it is not always error free. When written quickly and with poor penmenship these abbreviations can be confused.
Qhs can look like Q6h, or Qid…. and on and on
Regulatory agencies have stepped in an asked for abbreviations and shorthands to be removed from practice. Organizations like the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) spell out guidelines for how healthcare teams should communicate.
For more on what you can do to stay safe from medication errors, check out the book Preventing Medication Errors at Home.
Electronic prescribing to the rescue
Almost all doctors today use some kind of electronic medical record (EMR). You know, that computer they are on during your entire office visit!
These systems allow all medical information to be stored in a system that eliminates paper from charts and prescriptions. The thought is that less handwriting will eliminate mistakes from medical abbreviations like Qhs.
Unfortunately, these EMR’s have not eliminated all problems with medical abbreviations. In fact, new issues have arisen such as having directions and then notes for the pharmacist that do not match. Alternatively, some EMR’s may still print the abbreviations along with the information spelled out!
8. How can your doctor avoid medical abbreviation errors?
Your doctor has likely been through training about ways to avoid errors from medical abbreviations. However, staying vigilant is key to not falling back into process that can lead to errors. At a minimum you should see them doing the following:
- Explaining to you and writing or electronically entering the full drug name.
- Furthermore, the dose of the drug they are prescribing should be present.
- Telling you the directions for use and having you repeat it back to them.
- If they utilize electronic prescribing they should give you a print out of the prescription and have you read it prior to completing the visit.
9. Key steps for every prescription you receive
Getting through all the things you may want to discuss in a doctors appointment can be difficult. Most appointments only have about seven minutes spent with the doctor. Therefore, follow these key points to ensure your prescription doesn’t end up with a medical abbreviation error.
1. Say the name of the drug back to your doctor after they tell you what you’ll be taking.
2. Ask the doctor how to take your medication before you leave.
3. Write down the name, strength and directions for use before the visit is over.
4. Check the ISMP list of error prone medications & abbreviations for your prescription.
Remember if this is a medication you will take for a long time, things can get mixed up in the future also. Refills, new prescriptions, and transitions from hospital stays back to home are all areas where medical and medication abbreviations like Qhs can get mixed up.
Click here to get Dr. Jason Reed’s exclusive list of medication questions you MUST ask your doctor, for FREE!
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