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J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2011 Sep-Oct;18(5):645-51. doi: 10.1136/amiajnl-2010-000034. Epub 2011 May 25.

Evaluation of the NCPDP Structured and Codified Sig Format for e-prescriptions.

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  • 1RAND Corporation, Boston, Massachusetts 02116, USA.



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.


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.


Proportion of prescriptions that the Format could fully represent; proportion of terms used that could be mapped to the designated terminology.


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.


The findings are based on a retrospective sample of ambulatory prescriptions derived mostly from primary care physicians.


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.

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