Can doctors write prescriptions for themselves?


Can doctors write prescriptions for themselves? In the US and many other countries, it is acceptable for doctors to write prescriptions for themselves if the scenario is urgent and it is an emergency situation or if they are treating a minor ailment of theirs. It is hence not forbidden for doctors to prescribe themselves medication but it is highly discouraged. In straightforward terms, if we ask the question Can a doctor prescribe medication to himself? legally it can be answered as follows. Under federal law doctors are not prohibited from self-prescribing to themselves, however, certain state laws do prohibit self-prescription for e.g. Virginia.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA) code of medical ethics, it is advised that physicians should not serve as primary or regular healthcare providers for themselves or for their immediate family members. The AMA code further goes on to say that if it is a short-term or minor problem then doctors are allowed to prescribe medication for themselves and their family members. For e.g. if the doctor feels a muscle ache due to a long jog or a hike then he can self-prescribe diclofenac sodium (Dicloran) to himself.

Further, the AMA code explains that except in emergencies, it is not appropriate for doctors to prescribe for themselves and their family members if the prescribed medication is a controlled substance or drug. You can learn more about medical ethical laws and scenarios by reviewing the book by my colleague Bonnie F. Fremgen titled “Medical Ethics and Law“.

Why is self-medication discouraged even for doctors?

One of the most terrible scenarios that arise as a result of self-medication is the patient starts to take high doses of a particular drug although he is well aware that excess of the drug could harm him. But it is a psychological tendency among humans rather than an actual delusion. This is most common in patients who are on pain control medications both opioid-based such as Vicodin and nonopioid based such as simple NSAIDs.

Even if the patient is a doctor himself, he may develop a habit of taking a pain killer every night. This can lead to serious consequences as doctors have the ability to prescribe medications as well and one control point in the drug control cycle is bypassed by them entirely. They may also have friends working in the pharmacy and would thus be able to avoid the second most important checkpoint in drug control as well. This can lead to an immense degree of overdosage of drugs due to psychological tendencies.

Hence, many ethic codes are described to prevent doctors from indulging in this cycle. If any one of you has seen the Drama serial Dr. House, you will be well aware of this already.

The second most important reason is that most doctors specialize in a particular field and hence they are mostly unaware of the treatments and new medication protocols as well as drugs that are being prescribed in the specific fields. Hence, they may prescribe a low or high dosage of a drug un-intentionally. This can be however easily avoided. Most doctors will also have colleges who are doctors. So you can easily ask them about your condition in a casual setting. Either directly or over the phone, before you prescribe anything for yourself. It is always best to confirm the dosages of various drugs because in my own personal experience this is the one thing that we all forget over time.

Can I write a private prescription for myself?

Yes, you can, if you are a certified MD. But I would advise you to make a habit to stay away from self-prescribing. It is okay if you do it for a very common condition such as a stuffed nose but when you feel sick it is always a best practice to consult a fellow physician. When we are treating ourselves or our family members we tend to overlook things that we would normally try to dig out. For e.g., if we experience a tackle on the knee while playing something like football and we feel immediate pain in our knee, we tend to shy away from even thinking that it could be a ligament injury or a torn tendon. We instead gravitate towards labeling it like a bruise or a sprain. Similarly, if we are experiencing pain in the joint even after a few hours of experiencing the pain we have a tendency to just take an NSAID and try to just warm it up. This is a very common scenario and many of you will relate. We try to undervalue signs and symptoms when they are affecting either ourselves or our loved ones. We tend to downplay our symptoms and joke around about them.

Many doctors in such scenarios will tend to take an NSAID instead of going to the ER and getting an X-ray. This is a common dilemma. Thus I always advise fellow physicians and surgeons to always try to get a personal doctor for themselves as well. Further, if they don’t feel they need a personal doctor I would still advise them to call a fellow physician before self-prescribing. This is so that you get an objective analysis of the condition from your fellow. The subjective analysis of a human is always flawed, especially when he is dealing with himself.

Can doctors self-prescribe internationally?

Yes, in many countries of the world doctors are not barred from self-prescription. But in the case of controlled drugs such as opioid analgesics, self-prescriptions are not allowed. Self-prescription of controlled drugs could even land you into legal trouble. So, if you experiencing any situation which requires opioid analgesics to treat it is best to consult a fellow doctor.

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