Making Sense of a Prescription Medicine Label

| Posted On Sep 10, 2013 | By:

Med Pill BottlesI admit it: there’s a lot of information packed onto a prescription medicine label.  It’s all appropriate and necessary information, but it can also be overwhelming and confusing to interpret the abbreviations and small print.  To add to the confusion, one pharmacy’s label may place information in a different location than another pharmacy’s label does, creating a frustrating game of “hide and seek.”

Understanding your medicine label gives you the power to take what’s inside correctly and protect your health. So here’s a quick 1~2~3~4 outline of the key information you should know how to find on that label:

Pill Bottle Graphic


  1. The name, address, and phone number of your pharmacy – call the phone number when you have about a 5-day supply left of your medicine and you have refills remaining (see #4).  If you need to get a prescription renewed (meaning that you have no remaining refills), the name, address, and phone number of the pharmacy may be needed by your doctor’s office to call in your prescription promptly.
  2. Prescription number – often listed as a number after the letters “Rx,” each of your medicines has its own unique number.  Know your prescription number when you call the pharmacy to refill your medicine.
  3. Name of medicine – make sure you know what you are taking, as well as the dose and strength.  The number and unit of measure listed is the amount of medicine in one pill, so your dose would be higher than that if you have been instructed to take 2 or more pills at one time.
  4. Number of refills remaining – this is the number of times you can refill your medicine at the pharmacy before you will need a new prescription from your health care provider.
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About Amy Vachon, PharmD

Amy Vachon, PharmD is Director of the Atrius Health Clinical Pharmacy Program and co-chair of the Atrius Health Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committee. She joined Harvard Vanguard in 1996 and has worked to grow the Clinical Pharmacy Program which provides services to patients at many of our Atrius Health locations. Prior to working at Atrius Health, Amy was the Assistant Director for Clinical Pharmacy Services at Beth Israel Hospital, and before that, she worked in the operating room at Tufts Medical Center as a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist in Anesthesia and Operating Room Pharmacy. Amy graduated with a Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Michigan, and completed a residency in pharmacy practice at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. Amy is also passionate about creating the opportunity for work/life balance that allows every employee to be his or her best contributor to the workplace, and is the author, together with her husband, of Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents (Perigee Penguin 2011). She’s the mother of two children and an avid amateur violinist in her spare time.

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