A sample of prescription orders received from outpatient departments by a hospital pharmacy in Asir, Saudi Arabia, were analysed over 1 year for the essential elements of prescriptions. The prescriber's name, address and signature were on 83.3%, 9.6% and 81.9% of prescriptions respecti-vely. The patient's name, age and sex were on 94.6%, 77.3% and 51.3%. No prescription contained the patient's address and weight. Generic drug names were used in only 15.1% and strength of medication and dose units were included in 26.6% and 55.6% of prescriptions. Most prescriptions (94.0%) had no quantity indicated and had only partial instructions for patient use (90.7%); the diagnosis was included in about two-thirds. The prescriber's handwriting was illegible in 64.3% of prescriptions. Measures to improve the situation are suggested.