Objective: To evaluate the ability of the structure and code sets specified in the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs Structured and Codified Sig Format to represent ambulatory electronic prescriptions.
Design: We parsed the Sig strings from a sample of 20,161 de-identified ambulatory e-prescriptions into variables representing the fields of the Structured and Codified Sig Format. A stratified random sample of these representations was then reviewed by a group of experts. For codified Sig fields, we attempted to map the actual words used by prescribers to the equivalent terms in the designated terminology.
Measurements: Proportion of prescriptions that the Format could fully represent; proportion of terms used that could be mapped to the designated terminology.
Results: The fields defined in the Format could fully represent 95% of Sigs (95% CI 93% to 97%), but ambiguities were identified, particularly in representing multiple-step instructions. The terms used by prescribers could be codified for only 60% of dose delivery methods, 84% of dose forms, 82% of vehicles, 95% of routes, 70% of sites, 33% of administration timings, and 93% of indications.
Limitations: The findings are based on a retrospective sample of ambulatory prescriptions derived mostly from primary care physicians.
Conclusion: The fields defined in the Format could represent most of the patient instructions in a large prescription sample, but prior to its mandatory adoption, further work is needed to ensure that potential ambiguities are addressed and that a complete set of terms is available for the codified fields.