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The following sentence is from an article about patients not filling their prescriptions Why patients do not adhere

How to get patients to fill out their prescriptions

On the road to combating non-adherence, the first obstacle Is making patients fill out their prescriptions.

As you see, it says "...to fill out their prescriptions", whereas we know that it should be "to fill a prescription". "to fill out is for entering information on a form or piece of paper"

Is "to fill OUT a prescription" simply a mistake in the article or is it also idiomatic as "to fill a prescription" is?

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    In my experience (Aus) a prescription is filled out (sometimes abbreviated to filled) by a pharmacist when the medicine is dispensed. Forms are sometimes filled out, but more often filled in.
    – Peter
    Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 10:56
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    The pharmacist fills (UK: fulfils) the prescription (supplies the medication specified by a doctor) after the patient has filled out (completed) the required parts of the prescription form (possibly their name, age, date of birth, address, declaration if they have free entitlement, signature, etc). This is an informal blog. Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 11:13
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    As a BrE speaker, I too find this usage very odd; I wouldn't use either fill or fill out in this context (except for filling in or out a form). Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 11:31
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    @Brandin - I know both can be used of forms - it was fill out their prescriptions, apparently meaning get them dispensed by a pharmacy, that I found odd. Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 13:22
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    So according to the comments, Aus usage is "filled out" in the sense of "the pharmacist filled out the prescription for me," if I'm the patient. BrE is "fulfiled", i.e. "the pharmacist fulfilled the prescription for me." In American English it's definitely "filled" (without out) and the one who does the filling is the pharmacist. As a kid, I imagined that was said that way because the pharmacist was physically filling in the bottles (to fill the prescription), but that's probably not the correct etymology.
    – Brandin
    Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 14:17

1 Answer 1

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According to the M-W dictionary (American English) (see definition 5), it is "filled" without a preposition, which means "to supply as directed". So, when the pharmacist reads the prescription and supplies you with what is written there (what is directed), she is filling the prescription.

If you are the patient, though, you are normally not the one who is supplying the medicine. Someone else (the pharmacy) does that action. So, we would normally say that the patient gets someone else to fill the prescription for him, or that he has someone else fill the prescription for him. Therefore, in American English we would probably rewrite the quoted phrase in one of the following two ways:

... the first obstacle is making patients fill out their prescriptions.

--> the first obstacle is making patients have their prescriptions filled.

--> the first obstacle is getting patients to have their prescriptions filled.

The phrase "make X do Y" means to force the party X to do the action Y, and is stated without the "to" attached to the infinitive verb Y (i.e. "to make someone do something).

The phrase "get X to do Y" means to encourage (not as forcefully) the party X to do the action Y, and is stated with an extra "to" on the infinitive verb Y (i.e. "to get someone to do something).

The verb get can also be a substitute for have in the instance of "to have the prescription filled", so these alternatives are also possible which use the verb get twice in succession:

--> the first obstacle is getting patients to get their prescriptions filled.

--> the first obstacle is to get patients to get their prescriptions filled.

That looks a bit awkward, but in the article, the topic being discussed is, in fact, getting patients to get someone else (i.e. to get the pharmacy) to do something (to fill the prescription). That's why would get might appear twice in such a case without becoming redundant.

Personally, if I spoke such a sentence aloud, I would probably want to place primary stress on the actors (to get the patients to get the prescriptions filled) to make sure the listener understands who is doing what. The two instances of the verb "get" would receive less stress, while the connecting words like "to" and "the" would receive the least stress.

Note that different varieties of English may have a different idiomatic verb to use. A commentor mentioned that in UK English, one says to fulfill a prescription. In American English, fulfill is normally a generic verb for delivering a business order, but fill is the preferred verb for prescriptions in AmE.

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