Can a Physician Assistant Prescribe Medication?

One of the first questions I asked my family care doctor after he hired a physician assistant and asked for me to see them in his absence was, can a physician assistant prescribe medication for me if you can’t see me or are out of town? The answer can be more complex than you might think.

As far as the law is concerned physician assistants (PAs) can prescribe medication in 48 states at this time. The exceptions are Florida and Kentucky. Florida is investigating adding it and expanding the scope of practice for both Nurse practitioners and physician assistants in an effort to reduce costs in their state. The rules under which a PA can prescribe vary from state to state. They all require a responsible supervising physician to oversee and take responsibility for the prescriptions. Some states limit the ability to refill, some limit the class of drugs that they can prescribe and the number of doses that can be prescribed to only a short term. In order to fulfill the states legal requirements all a Physician assistant (PA) must do is fill out an application to the state’s prescription drug authority with the required paperwork and follow the state guidelines. This will satisfy the legal requirements for the prescription authority to issue a certificate to prescribe.

Secondary to the law are other factors that might effect if a physician assistant can prescribe medications and those are:

A. The hospital or healthcare facility where he works could impose additional rules or not allow it.

B. The supervising physician might not be comfortable with the additional exposure and limit the PA’s ability to prescribe or not allow it. This sometimes is done till a doctor is comfortable with the PA’s clinical and diagnostic capabilities when first employed.

I believe it is inevitable that the ability to prescribe for both advanced nursing practitioners and physician assistants will increase due to the changing healthcare environment. The Affordable Health Care Act or whatever eventually comes to pass demands the additional care of many more patients that the current doctor population can handle. Only through an expanded scope of practice for these physicians where they can help manage known illnesses a patient might have and screen more common ones will we be able to meet the increased coverage requirements. The use of PA’s and nurse practitioners also reduce the cost as lower payouts are required when seen by a PA than a doctor.

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