Legal Considerations: Prescribing Medications for Friends and Family

Alex Fisher and Erin Tolbert, the creator of MidlevelU, discuss legal considerations to be mindful of when prescribing medications for friends and family. The original article and video, published on MidlevelU, can be found here. Although Erin and Alex discuss prescribing to friends and family in the context of nurse practitioners, the same advice applies to other physicians and other healthcare providers.

100% of Physicians Say They have Prescribed Medication for Friends and Family

Statistics show that prescribing to friends and family members is a common practice among health care providers. Most states do not prohibit writing prescriptions for friends and family; however states require proper documentation to accompany all prescriptions that are written. In addition, most states discourage the practice of writing prescriptions to friends and family members except in emergency situations. It is important to remember that when writing a prescription for a controlled substance, federal law mandates that this must take place in the context of a strict, traditional provider-patient relationship.

Best Practices

In addition to protecting one’s license from future discipline, proper documentation to accompany all prescriptions is an important best practice for health care providers. For example, if a provider is prescribing to someone without taking his or her vital signs or knowing what other prescriptions he or she is on, the prescription written could end up harming the patient. Something else to remember when writing prescriptions: once a provider has written an prescription, he or she has entered into a legal provider-patient relationship with that patient, and the provider could be legally liable for any repercussions of the prescription he or she wrote. For example, if the medication causes drowsiness, and the patient falls asleep while driving and hurts someone, the provider could be liable.

What are the Consequences of Writing Prescriptions to Friends and Family Without Documentation?

The consequences of writing prescriptions to friends and family without documentation can range from a reprimand, required continuing education related to documentation and/or prescribing, and in some cases, revocation of a provider’s professional license. The best way providers can protect themselves from potential discipline by his or her state Board of Nursing or Board of Medical Examiners is to properly document when writing any prescription, and to be cautious about the writing of prescriptions to friends and family.