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According to the International Monetary Systems (IMS) Health Report, 4 billion prescriptions were written and dispensed in the United States in 2011. This reflects a need for prescribers and dispensers to fully understand prescriptive privileges and rational prescribing.1 The following outlines principles of pharmacotherapy, including general considerations of prescribing, rational prescribing of medications, types of prescription orders, safe prescribing practices including the importance of handwriting, adverse event reporting, and medication education.


It is essential that the prescriber and dispenser familiarize themselves with the professional guidelines, state laws, and federal laws. In addition, they must also understand the components of rational prescribing. Table D–1 below provides key elements a prescriber should understand as well as useful resources.

Table Graphic Jump Location
Table D–1Pharmacotherapy Principles



Prescription orders can be provided in a variety of ways by authorized prescribers. Outpatient prescriptions may be written, verbally authorized by phone, faxed, or provided via electronic means. All outpatient prescriptions are subject to federal regulations and contain the same basic components. Laws and regulations for outpatient prescription requirements can vary from state to state, so prescribers should be knowledgeable of all applicable laws. The basic components of a prescription are listed below as well as numbered in Figure D–1.2


  1. Prescriber information: name, address, and phone number

  2. Prescriber’s signature and prescriptive authority number or Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) number (if applicable)

  3. Patient information: full name and address, and weight and age if appropriate

  4. Date the prescription was written

  5. Superscription (Rx symbol), meaning “you take” or “recipe”

  6. Inscription: medication being prescribed (name of medication, strength, and dose)

  7. Signa, sig, or ...

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