Can You Prescribe for Yourself?

Can You Prescribe for Yourself – Overview

Being a doctor, if you have a cough and you feel a fever coming on with shortness of breath, what do you do? Do you self-prescribe antibiotics, order a chest x-ray on yourself, or consult a colleague or simply visit a regular physician?

It sounds tough to decide if treating yourself, your family and your friends is right. As with medical regulations, you should also have a set of guidelines to help make this decision.

According to reports, a significant number of physicians admit to treating family, friends, and themselves with antibiotics, contraceptives and antihistamines. However, this practice makes it harder to deny care to that person in the future.

Although there are several ethical and legal guidelines regulating self-prescribed, there is a lot of grey area open for interpretation by physicians.

Besides this, factors such as the need for a diagnostic test, the severity of the medical condition, the requested treatment and convenience also matter.

This article is meant to help you ponder on this issue. This article is set to increase your awareness of how other physicians work.

This article is also meant to enhance your knowledge of legal and ethical guidelines regulating self-prescription, and prescribing for family, friends and even colleagues.

Prescribing Outside of the Office

Can you prescribe for yourself

Can you prescribe for yourself – Prescribing Outside of the Office

Treating oneself and non-patients, such as relatives, friends, colleagues, etc., without proper documentation is common in the US.

Reports show that the percentage of self-prescribing physicians can be anywhere between 52% and 84% of physicians. Treating non-patients is even more prevalent, with some reports showing nearly 100% of physicians engaging in it.

Contraceptives, antibiotics, and antihistamines are the most commonly self-prescribed medications in the United States.

Navigating the Grey Area

There are several ethical guidelines dictating the terms for prescribing to non-patients, but not many physicians know them.

Section E-8.19 of the AMA Code of Medical Ethics states that “physicians generally should not treat themselves or members of their immediate families” because their professional objectivity may be compromised in such scenarios.

However, exceptions have been provided for “minor, short-term problems” or “in isolate3d or emergency settings”.

The American College of Physicians (ACP) Ethics Manual also states that “physicians should avoid treating themselves, close friends or members of their own families”.

Further on, it states that “physicians should be very cautious about assuming the care of closely associated employees.”

Some state medical boards take this a step further. North Carolina’s medical ethics laws specify that “physicians must prepare and keep a proper written record of that treatment”.

The Medical Code of Virginia states that “records should be maintained of all written prescriptions or administration of drugs.”

Besides this, some insurance companies, including Blue Cross Blue Shield and Medicare, prohibit payments for the care that physicians provide to immediate family members, even if the care has been provided in a clinical setting.

Legal and Ethical Aspects of Self-Prescription

Several legal considerations and laws need to be taken into account when determining whether to treat yourself or non-patients.

A physician-patient relationship is established once the physician treats a patient. Henceforth, the physician is responsible for every interaction and its consequences.

The current federal laws for written prescriptions are limited to controlled substances.

The law states that a prescriber should have a genuine patient-physician relationship, which includes written records. At least, state laws follow federal laws. Still, some states may require additional documentation, such as medical history and physical exam, before prescribing medications. Here is the list of self-prescribing laws by state.

In short, the legal aspects dictate that physicians should not treat non-patients except for minor problems or medical emergencies.

Make sure to keep a record of every diagnosis, suggestion, treatment, prescription, etc. Make sure to avoid prescribing controlled substances to non-patients, especially.

6 Factors that dictate self-prescription

Still, there are a lot of grey areas open for interpretation by physicians in specific situations. Apart from the ethical and legal issues mentioned earlier, there are other factors that influence your decision to self-prescribe or treat non-patients, such as:

#1. Your area of training and expertise

#2. Type of relationship and emotional closeness you have with the person being treated

#3. The severity of the diagnosis or medical condition

#4. Need for an intimate exam or medical history

#5. Medication or treatment requested

#6. Convenience


It’s often hard to think clearly when someone close to you is suffering, and you have the ability to alleviate their pain.

Still, imagining your reaction in such situations can make it easier to set your personal guidelines.

Make sure to consider the ethical questions and opinions regarding state and federal self-prescription laws. This will help you to make a well-thought and comfortable decision.

See Also

Can Nurse Practitioners Prescribe


Online DNP Programs

Florida Board of Nursing

Texas Board of Nursing

Ohio Board of Nursing

What Prescription is Legally Blind?

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