DOCTOR'S VIEW ARCHIVE

Birth Control Prescribed by Pharmacists

According to a news release from the University of Washington's School of Pharmacy, 8 Seattle-area pharmacies are collaborating in a study to provide birth control (oral contraceptives, contraceptive patches, or vaginal rings) to 300 women without first requiring that they visit a clinic or physician. The objective is to test the feasibility of pharmacists prescribing hormonal contraceptives. For the last 6 years, pharmacists in Washington State have been able to prescribe the "morning after" pill.

Although the new study is designed to dispense birth control without a doctor's prescription, the process is not without checks and balances. Women must provide answers to 23 specific questions designed to disclose contraindications to their using hormonal contraceptives. The pharmacist will decide whether and what to prescribe. The initial prescription will only be for three cycles (months) after which the women must return to the pharmacy for additional evaluation including remeasurement of their blood pressure and weight. The women may then be prescribed another ten cycles of birth control.

Comment: Some headlines described this as "non-prescribed birth control." In actuality, the protocol has been carefully designed by the University of Washington School of Pharmacy and the UW Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The birth control will be prescribed but it will just not require a prior trip to a clinic or physician. The admirable goal of this Seattle program is to make birth control more accessible to more women in the community

Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors, MedicineNet.com