Nurses Support Bill To Write Prescriptions

Posted: March 13, 2000

More than 500 nurses were expected at the capitol building in Harrisburg today to support a bill that would make Pennsylvania one of the last states in the country to give qualified nurses the authority to write prescriptions.

A significant percentage of nurses who possess a master's degree, or the equivalent, become the sole source of health care for many patients, especially those in traditionally under-served populations.

But in order to prescribe medication, current regulations require the nurses to go through a physician. The physician's name will appear on the bottle of prescription medication, but the physician will often not be directly involved in the care of the patient.

"Nurses, who are health-care providers for the elderly, the poor, those in inner-city and in rural areas, must have the autonomy to adequately serve their patients and that includes the ability to provide them with prescription medications," said Dr. Melinda Jenkins, assistant professor of primary care nursing at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and a certified registered nurse practitioner.

House Bill 50 was introduced amidst some serious concerns expressed by the Pennsylvania Medical Society and others, Jenkins said.

"The AMA [American Medical Association] is terribly threatened by this, and has agreed to help the Pennsylvania Medical Society fight it," she said. "They're afraid of the 'domino theory,' where once they give the authority to nurses, then everyone will want it."

Prescription-writing authority for nurses could well translate into increased paranoia by physicians, who may feel their patient base eroding, Jenkins said.

"We must provide greater access to primary health care in this state and advanced practice nurses are the way to do that - without physicians putting up barriers protecting their economic turf," Jenkins said.

Numerous calls to the Pennsylvania Medical Society in Harrisburg went unanswered.

Concern by physicians may be well-founded. A recent study that appeared in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that health care provided by nurse practitioners compared to care provided by physicians is of similar quality.

"No significant differences were found in patients' health status at six months [after treatment]," the JAMA article said.

The study took place over a two-year period at New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

Only Pennsylvania and Georgia prohibit nurse practitioners from prescribing medication independent of a physician. In the last year, Ohio and Illinois have given their nurses prescription-writing authority. The American Medical Association is headquartered in Chicago.

The rally is being held by the Alliance of Advanced Practice Nurses, which includes the Pennsylvania State Nurse's Association; the Pennsylvania Coalition of Nurse Practitioners; the Pennsylvania Association of Nurse Anesthetists; the Regional Nursing Centers Consortium; Pennsylvania chapters of the American College of Nurse Midwives; the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association; the Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses and practitioners and the Pennsylvania Association of Acute Care Nurse Practitioners.

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