Comparing nurse practitioner and physician prescribing of psychotropic medications for Medicaid-insured youths

Bo Kyum Yang, Mehmet Burcu, Daniel J. Safer, Alison M. Trinkoff, Julie M. Zito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objective: To describe psychotropic medication prescribing practices of nurse practitioners (NP) and physicians for Medicaid-insured youths in 2012-2014 in a mid-Atlantic state where NP independent prescribing is authorized. Method: From annual computerized administrative claims data in a mid-Atlantic state, we analyzed 1,034,798 dispensed psychotropic medications prescribed by NPs and physicians for 61,526 continuously enrolled Medicaid-insured youths aged 2-17 years. Demographic and clinical characteristics of psychotropic medication users were compared for youths who received psychotropic medication dispensings by NP-only, physician-only, or by both providers using descriptive statistics and generalized estimating equations. We then characterized psychotropic medication prescribing practices by providers within each specialty. Results: From 2012 to 2014, the number of psychotropic medication dispensings increased from 346,922 to 349,080. There was a 50.9% increase in the proportion of psychotropic medications prescribed by psychiatric NPs (from 5.9% to 8.8%) and a 28.6% proportional increase by non-psychiatric NPs (from 4.9% to 6.3%). By contrast, the proportion of psychotropic medications prescribed by psychiatrists and by non-psychiatric physicians declined (56.9%-53.0% and 32.3%-31.8%, respectively). Youths diagnosed with depression or anxiety were more commonly treated by NP-only than by physician-only (AOR = 1.33, 95% CI = 1.24-1.43), whereas youths with two or more psychiatric comorbidities were significantly more commonly treated by both NP and physician providers (AOR = 1.44, 95% CI = 1.39-1.50). Psychiatric specialists prescribed the bulk of antidepressants (82.0%) and lithium (92.3%), with much lower prescribing by non-psychiatric specialists (18.0% and 7.7%, respectively). Antipsychotic orders originated from psychiatric specialists 7.4 times more than from their non-psychiatric specialty counterparts, whether physician or NP. Conclusions: NPs, relative to physicians, have taken an increasing role in prescribing psychotropic medications for Medicaid-insured youths. The quality of NP prescribing practices deserves further attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)166-172
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018



  • children and adolescents
  • clinical provider
  • Medicaid
  • nurse practitioner
  • physician
  • psychotropic medication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)

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