OR pharmacist ‘prescribes’ oral contraceptives

Sandra ClarkAnderson, Our Town Health

Why do smart people become nurses, physicians, dentists or pharmacists?

Most times it’s because they have a high degree of empathy and a desire to serve others. One Oak Ridge pharmacist is demonstrating that in real time.

Lia Harb, Pharm. D., is dispensing birth control pills without a doctor’s visit at Munsey Pharmacy on the Oak Ridge Turnpike. “It offers easier accessibility and more affordable contraception,” she said. “Sometimes we even take a walk-in.”

This is happening under a 2019 revision to Rule 1140-15 by the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy. It authorizes pharmacists to prescribe hormonal contraceptives (oral tablets) through a collaborative practice agreement between a physician and pharmacist. Pharmacy owner Jim Munsey is part of this particular agreement.

“We have a protocol in place and thoroughly assess each patient’s health history to determine the most appropriate contraceptive to prescribe and dispense,” Harb said in an interview Thursday. The participating pharmacists have had special training and are well-versed in various types of oral contraception. Munsey Pharmacy offers the service to women ages 18-35.

During an initial $40 visit, the pharmacist talks with the patient about health issues such as blood pressure. The pharmacy accepts most major health insurance plans. For those uninsured, Harb said, “We make every effort to keep our costs affordable. We’re not turning anyone away.”

After the initial consultation, refills can be ordered by phone or electronically. Munsey Pharmacy can take patients from other counties.

“Women need to know (about the rule change). It’s not the morning after pill, and we’re not pushing it on anyone,” Harb said. “This is simply more affordable than seeing a physician (for a prescription) and more accessible, as some providers don’t have appointment availability for weeks or months out.”

Even though the rule changed in 2019, few pharmacies are offering this service. None, to my knowledge, are promoting it. Maybe that’s a liability issue … or a political decision. Nonetheless, couples need easy-to-access, affordable contraception. And in Oak Ridge, there is at least one pharmacist who is willing to provide it.

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today Inc.

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