South Carolina does not outright prohibit physicians from writing prescriptions for family members. However, if you’re going to prescribe medication to a family member, tread lightly. There are important legal considerations to consider. Our attorneys explain what legal considerations should be taken into account when writing a prescription for family members.
Can I write a prescription for a family member in South Carolina?
Healthcare professionals can legally write prescriptions for family members in South Carolina. However, they must be careful not to run afoul of laws that regulate prescription writing including the requirement of a true physician-patient relationship, mandatory record keeping and patient privacy.
South Carolina Law Considerations When Writing Prescriptions for Family Members
Healthcare professionals who are considering writing a prescription for a family member should be aware of some laws and regulations that may impact them.
1. A prescription may be made only in the context of a bona-fide physician-patient relationship
S.C. Code § 44-53-360 says that a physician can only write a prescription in the context of a bona fide physician-patient relationship. In a guidance statement, the Board of Medical Examiners says that a true physician-patient relationship is something the practitioner “cannot usually acquire” with a family member, because of the lack of objectivity.
Prescriptions should be written for family members only sparingly. In its opinion statement, the Board of Medical Examiners says that despite the difficulty in achieving a true physician-patient relationship, writing a prescription for a family member may be appropriate for minor illnesses, temporary situations and emergencies.
2. There must be a medical purpose
To lawfully write a prescription, a healthcare professional needs to truly know the patient’s medical condition. They must assess the benefits and risks to make an appropriate decision about medication. When writing a prescription for a family member, the medical professional should be able to explain why the prescription is necessary and appropriate based on prevailing medical standards.
3. Maintaining dependence on a drug is not a valid medical purpose
In the context of objectivity and good judgment, a physician writing a prescription to a family member must be especially mindful of substance abuse and dependence issues. It is a violation of S.C. Code § 44-53-360(h) to provide a prescription that allows a person to maintain an abusive dependence on a drug. Be especially cognizant of any substance abuse issues that may be present, and whether that impacts your objectivity and ability to evaluate the risks and benefits of medication.
4. Privacy laws apply
Privacy laws apply to all prescriptions – whether or not they involve family members. S.C. Code § 44-117-30 says that prescription drug information cannot be transferred without the consent of the patient or their authorized agent. There are some exceptions where disclosure is okay – when it is allowed by law and if the patient voluntarily discloses information.
Remember that in the context of prescribing for a family member, the family member gets the same privacy and confidentiality that any other patient receives. A violation of S.C. Code § 44-117-40 is a misdemeanor that carries up to a $10,000 fine.
5. Prescriptions must be written electronically unless an exception applies
S.C. Code § 44-53-360(j) requires electronic prescription writing in most circumstances. Physicians “shall electronically prescribe” schedule II-V medications unless an exception applies. The exceptions are things like direct dispensing, hospitalization and nursing home care. Temporary technical failures are an exception too, but the physician must document the glitch in the patient record.
Keep in mind that if you write a prescription to a family member, there is going to be a paper trail. Usually, the prescription needs to be electronic, and in any event, the dispensing pharmacy keeps their own records. Be sure to follow these electronic requirements and know that your actions may be subject to scrutiny.
6. The Board of Medical Examiners has guidelines
The South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners issued a statement on the topic of prescribing medications to family members. They reiterate that state law requires a true physician-patient relationship, knowledge of the person’s medical condition and an objective assessment of the benefits and risks of medication. They also reiterate the importance of appropriate record keeping. While this opinion statement is not binding law, it is a helpful indicator of prevailing standards and how existing laws may be applied and interpreted.
7. Misconduct laws and ethical guidelines also apply
In addition to laws that speak directly to prescription writing, remember that there are also misconduct laws and ethical guidelines that apply to the practice of medicine in South Carolina. If a person is found to be in violation of S.C. Code § 40-47-110, they face discipline of their professional license which may even include suspension or revocation of the license. In addition, S.C. Code Regs. § 81-60 lists the Principles of Medical Ethics. Among other things, ethical guidelines require honest dealings and safeguarding patient confidence within the context of the law.
What To Know About Writing a Prescription for Family
Writing a prescription for a family member isn’t ideal – but in some cases, it may be the right thing to do. The person may be in an emergency and need help quickly. An illness or injury may be minor, and medical experts may readily agree on what medication is necessary. The family member may need a temporary prescription until they can be seen by a different professional.
However, going ahead with writing a prescription for a family member poses some real dangers. Even though it’s allowed, there are a lot of other laws, misconduct guidelines and ethical rules that the healthcare professional must be careful not to violate. The healthcare provider must be prepared to defend their actions in the event of scrutiny.
Attorneys for Defense of Physician Prescription Writing for Family
If you’ve been accused of violating a law or professional misconduct as it relates to writing a prescription for a family member, our attorneys can help you fight back. We are experienced attorneys at Bannister, Wyatt & Stalvey who help physicians and other healthcare professionals defend against allegations of wrongdoing. If you are facing criminal charges or misconduct allegations, contact us today for a confidential consultation about your case.