Despite efforts by some psychologists to be given permission to prescribe drugs to their patients, most of them are still opposed to this idea. The controversy results from growing consensus among medical specialists that a good number of mental problems are treatable with appropriate medication.
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Thus psychologists see a number of patients who are in dire need of medication during the treatment yet the psychologists are not allowed to deal with medical prescriptions because they do not have a medical degree. This necessitates the consultation of multiple medical specialists by a patient while seeking treatment for a single mental illness that can be treated by one specialist.
In most cases, patients are forced to seek the services of psychiatrists and family doctors to get their prescriptions. This paper looks into the necessity of giving permission to psychologists to give medical prescriptions and the repercussions of the same.
Some people believe that the training that psychologists receive is insufficient for safe prescription of psychotropic medicine. Two things have to be put into consideration here. One is the requirement that is set as the basic qualification for practicing psychology and the additional medical knowledge that psychologists require in order for them to be in a position to prescribe drugs.
The training for psychologists is composed of a training that goes for our years just as the training for physicians. Thus a psychologist holding a degree qualification has spent the same time as a physician in school. The psychology degree is substantially different from a medical degree in terms of course composition.
Students studying psychology have the choice of taking elective courses related to biological sciences although the course is not medical-based. These courses include chemistry and basic biology courses. After completion of undergraduate degree they are required to take additional courses for an approximate period of seven years.
During this period for additional courses, psychologists are involved in real practice in which they deal with real psychological cases in both inpatient and outpatient scenarios. Finally, they are expected to spend two years while treating mental disorders under the supervision of physicians and psychologists. After completion of a national exam for psychologists, they can then apply to be licensed for practice (Yates, 2007, p. 1).
Psychologists can be rated as among the specialists with doctor-level training of the highest order. Additionally, if a psychologist wants to be given the authority to prescribe psychotropic medication, he/she is required to go for a medical training for three years or more.
Another reason why psychologists have a very valuable training is that, apart from the requirement of receiving medical training, psychologists with the right to prescribe are required to work hand-in-hand with the physician of the patient. Therefore, the combination of medical and mental training coupled with collaboration with experienced physicians makes them top-notch medical professionals.
The requirement for psychologists to attend medical school, which is actively advocated for by psychiatrists, is necessitated by the need for psychologists to prescribe medication safely to their clients (Yates, 2007, p. 1). This is due to the aforementioned reason that psychologists do not have medical training and thus they need it to safely prescribe drugs.
Although substantial controversy exists in relation to the effectiveness with which prescribing psychologists can prescribe drugs, they are arguably safer prescribers than their non-medical physician counterparts. This is partly because these psychologists get their license and indulge in real psychological practice even before their medical training starts.
By the time these psychologists are given the go-ahead to prescribe psychotropic medications, they already have an approximate ten years of post-college training in the psychological treatment of mental disorders. On the other hand, physicians in primary care are only involved in psychiatry clerkship in the course of their studies at the medical school.
The clerkship runs for a couple of weeks (Yates, 2007, p. 1). With this comparison, it is apparent that prescribing psychologists are able to prescribe psychoactive medications more safely than non-psychiatric physicians.
In a research conducted on prescribing psychologists in the Department of Defense, it was proven that with appropriate medical training, psychologists were capable of giving safe prescriptions. There are also other non-physician prescribers like optometrists, dentists, nurses, podiatrists etc. The studies that have been conducted on this group of non-physician prescribers show that they are more or less as safe as physician prescribers.
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It can thus be argued that psychologists who receive an appropriate medical training are as good as other qualified prescribers in giving prescriptions. Furthermore, if prescribing psychologists and the other aforementioned non-physician prescribers were not prescribing safely, there will indubitably be substantial outcry from the public demanding intervention from regulation bodies (Yates, 2007, p. 1).
Two states in the United States, New Mexico and Louisiana, have already passed legislation giving qualified psychologists the permission to give psychoactive prescriptions. In these states, caution has been taken in the legislation to ensure that the public are safe from the negative repercussions of the legislation.
For instance, in the state of New Mexico, a psychologist will receive a certificate for prescription with the limited period of two years and with the condition that his/her prescriptions will be given under the keen supervision of a qualified physician. On completion of this period, a psychologist is expected to take a national examination and upon passing it, be certified for prescription without supervision.
Even after obtaining this permission for unsupervised prescription, the psychologist is expected to collaborate closely with the primary care physician of the patient in order to give psychoactive prescriptions.
In Louisiana, even after passing the national examination and completing the aforementioned training, a prescribing psychologist is supposed to work in close collaboration with the primary care physician of the patient in making prescriptions to the patient (Yates, 2007, p. 1).
Apart from the discussed thorough training and the legislative framework for safeguarding patients, it is commendable that psychologists have more regular follow-up meetings with their patients than other practitioners. Psychologists normally have weekly or bi-weekly follow-up meetings with their patients as opposed to primary care physicians who only see their patients for intervention in acute medical problems.
The stated frequency of visits builds trust and openness of communication between the psychologist and his/her patient which is very instrumental in any prescription for potentially harmful medicine.
In comparison with the stated primary care physicians, psychologists have the ability to take better and timely care of medication side effects in order to ensure that medication achieves the best effects on the patients to whom they are prescribed (Yates, 2007, p. 1).
As evidenced in the discussion above, the measures that are put in place in states which have allowed psychologists to prescribe psychoactive medication to their patients are sufficient to safeguard mental patients.
It has also been shown that psychologists undergo thorough training that makes them professions in their field of practice and thus they are bound to prescribe safe medication to their patients since they have all then skills and experience. It has even been proved that psychologists are safer prescribers of psychotropic medicine than patient physicians and a couple of other medical specialists (Yates, 2007, p. 1).
The states which are left behind in adopting this legislation should thus consider the safety with which psychologists in New Mexico and Louisiana prescribe medication to their patients and also evaluate the damage that could accrue due to procrastination on the legislation.
This will make them realize the importance of the discussed legislation on the lives of the American people and thus psychologists will eventually get permission to prescribe medication to their patients in all American States.
Despite the advantages that may come with the adoption of the aforementioned legislation, a number of loopholes may be created by the legislation. It is, thus, desirable that as states adopt the legislation of allowing psychologist to prescribe medication to their patients, care be taken to ensure that essential instruments are put in place to iron out all the exploitable weaknesses in the legislation.
Strict requirements for licensing, as in New Mexico and Louisiana, should also be put in place to ensure that licenses are issued to credible psychologists whose skills will help to save and better people’s lives. This way, the legislation is bound to bring positive changes in Medicare.
Yates, D. (2007). Patient Safety Forum: Should Psychologists Have Prescribing authority. Web.