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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Nurse prescribing of medicines in Western European and Anglo-Saxon countries: a systematic review of the literature

Marieke Kroezen1*, Liset van Dijk1, Peter P Groenewegen12 and Anneke L Francke13

Author Affiliations

1 NIVEL, Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research, PO Box 1568, 3500 BN Utrecht, The Netherlands

2 Department of Sociology and Department of Human Geography, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands

3 Department of Public and Occupational Health, EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research (EMGO+) of VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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BMC Health Services Research 2011, 11:127  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-11-127

Published: 27 May 2011

Abstract

Background

A growing number of countries are introducing some form of nurse prescribing. However, international reviews concerning nurse prescribing are scarce and lack a systematic and theoretical approach. The aim of this review was twofold: firstly, to gain insight into the scientific and professional literature describing the extent to and the ways in which nurse prescribing has been realised or is being introduced in Western European and Anglo-Saxon countries; secondly, to identify possible mechanisms underlying the introduction and organisation of nurse prescribing on the basis of Abbott's theory on the division of professional labor.

Methods

A comprehensive search of six literature databases and seven websites was performed without any limitation as to date of publication, language or country. Additionally, experts in the field of nurse prescribing were consulted. A three stage inclusion process, consisting of initial sifting, more detailed selection and checking full-text publications, was performed independently by pairs of reviewers. Data were synthesized using narrative and tabular methods.

Results

One hundred and twenty-four publications met the inclusion criteria. So far, seven Western European and Anglo-Saxon countries have implemented nurse prescribing of medicines, viz., Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden, the UK and the USA. The Netherlands and Spain are in the process of introducing nurse prescribing. A diversity of external and internal forces has led to the introduction of nurse prescribing internationally. The legal, educational and organizational conditions under which nurses prescribe medicines vary considerably between countries; from situations where nurses prescribe independently to situations in which prescribing by nurses is only allowed under strict conditions and supervision of physicians.

Conclusions

Differences between countries are reflected in the jurisdictional settlements between the nursing and medical professions concerning prescribing. In some countries, nurses share (full) jurisdiction with the medical profession, whereas in other countries nurses prescribe in a subordinate position. In most countries the jurisdiction over prescribing remains predominantly with the medical profession. There seems to be a mechanism linking the jurisdictional settlements between professions with the forces that led to the introduction of nurse prescribing. Forces focussing on efficiency appear to lead to more extensive prescribing rights.