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Not sure if this question is appropriate for this forum (English language & usage) or is better suited in the other forum (English Language learner), but below is my confusion -

The expression of "fill a prescription" in English seems to carry multiple meanings and I am seeking clarification.

(1) The doc has filled your prescription - meaning the doc wrote a prescription for me, but I still need to go to a pharmacy to get my medicine. For now, I have not been charged for the medicine.

(2) The pharmacist has filled your prescription - meaning the pharmacist provided the medicine to me. I needed to pay to the pharmacist in exchange for my medicine.

(3) On our record, you have filled the prescription - meaning on the record, I have received(?) the medication, not that my prescription has only been "filled" by the doc, per the definition of the first example.

Are these correct? Thank you.

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    The doctor writes the prescription. The pharmacy fills it (delivers the medicine prescribed by the doctor). Where did you see the first usage?
    – The Photon
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 18:52
  • A voice message in my phone. The exact phrase is on example 3. I went to my doc but have not gone to the pharmacy so I am not sure why the record showed that my prescription has been "filled".
    – B Chen
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 18:54
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    Maybe the doctor transmitted the Rx to the pharmacy, and they filled it (counted the pills into a bottle or whatever) and it's waiting for you to pick up?
    – The Photon
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 19:04
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    Or maybe the person who left the phone message is just sloppy.
    – The Photon
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 19:07
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    Also, note that "filled" likely means that the pharmacist has put the pills in a bottle and it's ready to be picked up, not that it has already been picked up. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 19:08

5 Answers 5

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Hopefully this simplifies it for you, but the Pharmacist is the one who fills your prescription. It might help you to think about a Pharmacist filling a bottle with pills.

A doctor "writes" a prescription. Often a doctor writes a prescription on a piece of paper. However, it can also be written electronically, or faxed.

A pharmacist "fills" a prescription. Your prescription bottle will literally be "filled" with drugs, when you present a valid prescription to a pharmacist.

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  • Thanks all. So is my understanding correct: (1) the use of "doc filling a prescription" is either wrong or a sloppy English. (2) it is correct to use "a pharmacist has filled the prescription. (3) it is not correct to say "I have filled my prescription". (4) "my prescription was filled" means it's ready to be picked up. It doesn't mean I have to have it in my hand.
    – B Chen
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 22:14
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    (1) correct, its sloppy and inaccurate; (2) correct; (3) no, you can say that you have filled your prescription because it means you took your prescription down to the pharmacist and had it filled, its like saying that you installed a new pool at your house, its assumed that you hired someone to install it; (4) correct.
    – Devil07
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 0:51
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A doctor prescribes medicine and writes a prescription, meaning he writes down what drugs and how much of the drug the pharmacist should give the patient. When a doctor sends a pharmacist a prescription note, he is basically assigning them a TODO task of filling up a bottle with medicine.

The pharmacist then uses the doctors instructions to know how to fill the prescription. The action of measuring the medicine and putting the right dosage into a bottle is what is considered "filling the prescription".

Even if you didn't yet pick up the pills, if the pharmacist already put the pills in the box, it is considered that he already completed the doctor's task and filled the prescription.

Think of it like having a TODO note to buy milk. When you write "buy milk" on your grocery list, or when you have a note in your hand that says to buy milk, the action is not yet done. As soon as you pay for the milk, you complete the task of purchasing milk. At this point, the action is considered "done" even if you did not yet get home and did not yet drink the milk.

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Maybe the use is changing?

From NY Times article titled Young Women Are Using A.D.H.D. Drugs in Greater Numbers, C.D.C. Reports, By Benedict Carey, Date Sat Jan 18th 2018

The percentage of young adult women who filled prescriptions for drugs used to treat attention deficit disorder has increased more than fivefold since 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Thursday.

New York Times

The article makes it clear that these young women are those taking the drugs, and not the pharmacists who put them in the bottle.

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  • A link to your reference would be useful.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 21:42
  • @Nigel J Done: I've added URL.
    – mike stone
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 22:20
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    It may be a shortening of ... who have had prescriptions filled
    – Jim
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 22:28
  • @mikestone I've tidied the link and quote. Please feel free to re-edit if you wish.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 0:21
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    I agree - I would be fine saying either the patient filled the prescription (they went and got it) or the pharmacist did the actual task of filling the bottle. Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 0:26
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The transitive verb fill means to supply requisitioned items. The supplier fills the order. The order is filled by the supplier.

We need to fill this order for 10,000 widgets that our new customer has placed.

A prescription is understood to be a kind of order for medications. The medical practitioner writes the prescription and the pharmacy fills it.

An extended meaning of fill is "to have filled" or "to cause to be filled".

Have you filled your prescription?

means "Have you had your prescription filled (by the pharmacy)?"

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The following example says that the patient fills the prescription, but I would say it actually illustrates Devil07's answer and follow-up comment ("you can say that you have filled your prescription because it means you took your prescription down to the pharmacist and had it filled".)

In USA alone, physicians write out 3.8 billion prescriptions annually. However, research suggests that 22-28% of all prescriptions are not filled out. [...] Why aren’t patients filling out their prescriptions? Lack of adherence is one of the biggest problems in modern medicine
Why patients don't fill out their prescriptions

And here's another example:

Nonadherence to prescribed medications poses a significant public health problem. Prescription data in electronic medical records (EMRs) linked with pharmacy claims data provides an opportunity to examine the prescription fill rates and factors associated with it. [...] Significant proportions of patients, especially patients with no prior treatment history, did not fill prescriptions for antibiotics, antihypertensives, or antidiabetics.
Prescription fill rates for acute and chronic medications

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