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Napatia Tronshaw: Prescribing psychologists wrong Rx for mental health

Tronshaw

Tronshaw

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Updated: June 26, 2014 6:23AM



Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I saw firsthand how difficult it was for my family and friends to receive the health care they needed.

It was even harder to find quality treatment for mental health. Many have dubbed the South Side an “underserved area” for mental health services, so I support measures that expand access to such care, as long as those measures are safe.

But I strongly oppose proposals such as Senate Bill 2187, which would diminish the quality of care under the pretext of expanding it.

The law would allow psychologists, who have no medical training, to prescribe some of the most powerful medications in existence, putting patients at risk.

Not only is this law unsafe, it is unnecessary. There are more effective ways to increase access to mental health care in Illinois without jeopardizing patients’ well being.

Consider telepsychiatry, the practice of providing counseling and treatment through telecommunications technology, which has been used for years to treat veterans.

There are also collaborative, integrated health care models that connect psychologists with psychiatrist-led physician teams, leading to better patient outcomes.

Put simply, we have viable strategies to address our mental health care access problem. But putting patients at risk is not the solution.

If psychologists want to prescribe medication, they should receive medical training. That doesn’t mean they have to go to medical school. They can become trained as advanced practice nurses or physician assistants and earn prescription rights.

Before I became a psychiatrist, I served as a nursing assistant at Misericordia, a home for those with developmental and physical disabilities. I learned the importance of understanding the entire body, not just the brain, when prescribing medication.

That’s why SB 2187 falls short — it fails to require that psychologists understand the delicate intricacies of the entire human body.

The proposed law offers the veneer of medical training through collaborative agreements with physicians and what it calls a “conditional license.” But these arrangements could be as minimal as one phone call once a month and could very well be supervised by other psychologists.

Under the bill, an independent board, dominated by psychologists and outside the bounds of the medical profession, would oversee prescribing psychologists. The bill also creates educational and training shortcuts to prescription privileges.

It’s no wonder that the state’s leading advocate for mental health patients, the Illinois chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, opposes this law — it would create a lower standard of care for mental health.

Illinois’ mental health patients deserve safe and affordable care, no matter where they live. We cannot settle for anything less.

As a licensed psychiatrist, I urge the General Assembly to reject SB 2187.

Napatia Tronshaw is a
psychiatrist at the Elemental Center in Orland Park. She received her medical degree from the
University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine.



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