Psychologists pitch lawmakers on letting them prescribe psychotropics

Ohio Statehouse News

A lot of people have a difficult time finding a psychiatrist on short notice.

Some of these people could benefit from antidepressant medication but they can’t get it until that appointment arrives several weeks down the road if they land one at all.

There are roughly 1,350 psychiatrists in Ohio, according to Dr. Gerald Strauss a clinical psychologist who is pushing lawmakers to change the law.

He wants to open up the prescription of psychotropic drugs to psychologists, of which there are more than 3,000 working in Ohio; some of which are in somewhat rural settings.

“What we are addressing with this bill is access to care,” said Strauss. “Currently our psychiatric colleagues are the ones who prescribe psychotropic medications and they do a great job of it; there aren’t enough of them.”

Some patients in rural areas are forced to travel to major cities to see a psychiatrist.

The bill would allow psychologists who have completed their doctorate to return to school and pursue a Masters-level degree in Psychopharmacology. Only after completing the degree would the psychologist be able to prescribe psychotropic drugs.

Strauss estimates if 1 in 10 psychologists in Ohio was trained this way there would be 300 more professionals able to help people; if just a quarter of the psychologists in the state got the degree it would add 775 prescribers to the ranks.

Strauss says that would make an impact on wait times and access.

“Lack of access is a very real problem,” said Dr. Victoria Kelly, a Psychiatrist and Psychiatry Program Director at the University of Toledo. “We don’t necessarily need more prescribers we need better access to them in a safe way. This bill in absolutely no way protects patient safety.”

Dr. Kelly’s concerns revolve around the amount of education that bill calls for.

“The level of training that’s suggested in this bill is substandard even to the bare minimum for what a physician’s assistant would need,” said Kelly.

Psychiatrists spend years going to medical school and learning how the body works in conjunction with how the brain reacts to it and medications the body is subjected to.

She says, psychologists are an important part of a patient’s treatment team; but they should focus on the psychotherapy aspect of that treatment and leave the prescribing of pharmaceuticals to the psychiatrists.

To solve the access problem, Kelly suggests fixing how insurance pays for telemedicine and employing more of it to reach people that are not near by.

The legislature is also considering a telemedicine bill at this time.

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