Since several years, there has been an increasingly vociferous movement within the chiropractic profession to obtain limited prescription rights, that is the right to prescribe drugs for musculoskeletal problems. A recent article by Canadian and Swiss chiropractors is an attempt to sum up the arguments for and against this notion. Here I have tried to distil the essence of the pros and contras into short sentences.
1) Arguments in favour of prescription rights for chiropractors
1.1 Such privileges would be in line with current evidence-based practice. Currently, most international guidelines recommend, alongside prescription medication, a course of manual therapy and/or exercise as well as education and reassurance as part of a multi-modal approach to managing various spine-related and other MSK conditions.
1.2 Limited medication prescription privileges would be consistent with chiropractors’ general experience and practice behaviour. Many clinicians tend to recommend OTC medications to their patients in practice.
1.3 A more comprehensive treatment approach offered by chiropractors could potentially lead to a reduction in healthcare costs by providing additional specialized health care options for the treatment of MSK conditions. Namely, if patients consult one central practitioner who can effectively address and provide a range of treatment modalities for MSK pain-related matters, the number of visits to providers might be reduced, thereby resulting in better resource allocation.
1.4 Limited medication prescription rights could lead to improved cultural authority for chiropractors and better integration within the healthcare system.
1.5 With these privileges, chiropractors could have a positive influence on public health. For instance, analgesics and NSAIDs are widely used and potentially misused by the general public, and users are often unaware of the potential side effects that such medication may cause.
2) Arguments against prescription rights for chiropractors
2.1 Chiropractors and their governing bodies would start reaching out to politicians and third-party payers to promote the benefits of making such changes to the existing healthcare system.
2.2 Additional research may be needed to better understand the consequences of such changes and provide leverage for discussions with healthcare stakeholders.
2.3 Existing healthcare legislation needs to be amended in order to regulate medication prescription by chiropractors.
2.4 There is a need to focus on the curriculum of chiropractors. Inadequate knowledge and competence can result in harm to patients; therefore, appropriate and robust continuing education and training would be an absolute requirement.
2.5 Another important issue to consider relates to the divisiveness around this topic within the profession. In fact, some have argued that the right to prescribe medication in chiropractic practice is the profession’s most divisive issue. Some have argued that further incorporation of prescription rights into the chiropractic scope of practice will negatively impact the distinct professional brand and identity of chiropractic.
2.6 Such privileges would increase chiropractors’ professional responsibilities. For example, if given limited prescriptive authority, chiropractors would be required to recognize and monitor medication side effects in their patients.
2.7 Prior to medication prescription rights being incorporated into the chiropractic scope of practice worldwide, further discussions need to take place around the breadth of such privileges for the chiropractic profession.
In my view, some of these arguments are clearly spurious, particularly those in favour of prescription rights. Moreover, the list of arguments against this notion seems a little incomplete. Here are a few additional ones that came to my mind:
- Patients might be put at risk by chiropractors who are less than competent in prescribing medicines.
- More unnecessary NAISDs would be prescribed.
- The vast majority of the drugs in question is already available OTC.
- Healthcare costs would increase (just as plausible as the opposite argument made above, I think).
- Prescribing rights would give more legitimacy to a profession that arguably does not deserve it.
- Chiropractors would then continue their lobby work and soon demand the prescription rights to be extended to other classes of drugs.
I am sure there are plenty of further arguments both pro and contra – and I would be keen to hear them; so please post yours in the comments section below.