Can I Get a Prescription Without Seeing a Doctor?

Spencer Lee
Spencer Lee15 Sep 2021

To receive any prescription, you will need to see a medical provider; however, this does not necessarily have to be a doctor. There are several options from which you can seek a prescription besides doctors. Such medical practitioners include nurse practitioners, dentists, optometrists, and many more. To avoid the hassle of seeking care in person, it may be possible to receive a prescription over a telehealth visit. 

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You should never seek to obtain prescriptions from people outside of the medical profession. This is both dangerous and illegal.

Getting a Prescription Without Seeing a Doctor

If you need a prescription, you will have to consult with a doctor or healthcare provider to obtain the medication. 

Read more below to learn about the differences between over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, as well as who is authorized to prescribe medication. 

Over-the-Counter (OTC) vs. Prescription (Rx) Drugs 

Over-the-counter (OTC) medication refers to medication that you can buy without the approval of a doctor. This includes drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol). On the other hand, prescription medications are only available if you have valid approval from a licensed provider (e.g., doctor). 

According to Dr. Plummer, hospital pharmacist and advocate, and provider for women with Hyperemesis Gravidarum,

"Prescription-only drugs can be more dangerous than OTC drugs, which is why they are heavily regulated and necessitate approval from a qualified provider, who will not only gauge the risks of using this medication but also monitor your health state to ensure that the medication is working and not causing any unreasonable side effects. 

The two main classes are non-prescription (OTC) and prescription. Prescription medications (Rx or Legend) are then classified further into a schedule based on addiction potential. The FDA determines which medications get which classification based on their application.

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OTC Medications

Medications that are classified as OTC have met three conditions. They are proven safe, proven effective, and can be managed without professional supervision or consultations. They are designed for disease states that can be self-diagnosed and monitored. In reality, anything that is absorbed into the body has the potential to be dangerous, so these criteria are met when following the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Prescription Medications (Rx)

In contrast to OTC, medications that are given a prescription requirement have the ability to cause harm if not taken under the supervision of a licensed medical practitioner. These medications require a prescription written by a doctor and a consultation from a pharmacist because they have the potential for misuse or abuse. They are only to be taken by the person whose name is on the prescription. What can be beneficial to one person may cause harm to another. 

Within the prescription designation, the DEA categorized addictive medications into schedules that go from I to IV. These drugs are also known as controlled medications. 

Schedule I medications are highly addictive and abused with no medicinal benefit and are illegal, while Schedule II-IV medications have a potential for addiction but do provide medicinal value. The more difficult it is to stop using a medication, the lower the number. 

Always consider the risks versus benefits when deciding to take medication, either OTC or Rx. There is a possibility for a medication to move from Rx to OTC, from OTC to Rx, or even be taken off the market. Some medications, like those with pseudoephedrine or ephedrine, are OTC but kept behind the counter and regulated by the DEA because of diversion."

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Who Can Prescribe Medicine

Since they have the most authority overprescribing medicine, doctors are often the medical providers to distribute prescription medicines, but doctors do not necessarily have to write such prescriptions. 

Below is a list of all the qualified medical providers who can prescribe you certain medications. While the list varies from state to state, this should give you a general idea of whom you can seek care from if seeking a prescription.

  • Medical Doctors (MD, DO)
  • Nurse Practitioners (NNP)
  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurses
  • Physician Assistant (PA)
  • Pharmacists
  • Clinical Psychologists
  • Dentists (DDS, DDM)
  • Optometrists

Although the legal capacity to prescribe medications varies among these individuals, with doctors possessing the most authority, each of these medical professions can prescribe at least some type of medication to you. Generally speaking, limitations exist for controlled substance prescriptions, with medical doctors usually existing as the sole healthcare providers that can prescribe these medications. 

Therefore, when in doubt, it is best to consult your doctor, who will have the greatest ability to prescribe medications that you may need. 

Prescriptions Through Telemedicine VIsits

A need for prescription medication does not necessarily mean you have to attend a medical appointment. For many medications, it is possible to conduct a visit with your provider over a telehealth visit, where you call or video chat with your medical provider. Telehealth visits, however, cannot be used to prescribe controlled substances under the Ryan Haight Act. 

To receive controlled substances (e.g., morphine or oxycodone), you will need to visit a doctor in person or meet the criteria identified in the law. Accordingly, it is tough to acquire prescriptions for controlled substances via telehealth visits via phone or video call (but not email). 

The exemptions to this legislation are:

  1. Telehealth occurs when the patient is already in a hospital or clinic
  2. Telehealth occurs when the patient is in the physical presence of a medical practitioner
  3. Telehealth conducted by a member of the Indian Health Service or tribal organization
  4. Public emergency declared by the Secretary of Health and Human Services
  5. Telehealth conducted by a person who has received special authority
  6. Department of Veterans Affairs medical emergency
  7. Other circumstances specified by regulation (pending approval by Secretary of Health and Human Services)



Spencer Lee

Spencer is a Public Health & Biology undergraduate student at New York University.