With superlative clinical preparation grounded in time-tested nursing skills of assessment, diagnosis, communication and patient support, advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) are in an excellent position to powerfully impact the availability of high-quality primary care to a rapidly aging population.

Here in the United States, the percentage of the population over 65 will continue to grow at a significant rate for several decades, and the medical needs of those aging Americans will grow apace. Considering a documented shortage of geriatricians, APRNs can fill in the gaps, shoring up the healthcare infrastructure at a point of potential crisis.

APRNs, expanded autonomy and the elderly

In an increasing number of states, APRNs are gaining ground vis-à-vis expanded scope of practice and the ability to care for patients without the supervision of a doctor. As the Affordable Care Act continues to expand the number of Americans with health insurance, the need increases for primary care providers who can manage the overall care of those consumers, including the growing elderly segment.

Certified gerontological nurse practitioners (CGNPs) are a breed of APRN who can step into the gap created by an obvious dearth of physicians skilled in geriatrics, taking advantage of the increased autonomy of practice that APRNs enjoy in more than 20 states and the District of Columbia.

Demand for primary care can drive supply. As savvy healthcare consumers realize APRNs and CGNPs can skillfully manage the often complex care of the elderly, the widespread acceptance of these practitioners will deservedly increase.

Expanded and novel practice settings

Nurse practitioners skilled in geriatric health can offer their services in a wide variety of settings. Entrepreneurial APRNs may choose to seize the moment by offering novel forms of care delivery that will satisfy the desires of this burgeoning base of elderly healthcare consumers.

In states where APRNs enjoy complete autonomy, they are free to open stand-alone clinics, single-provider offices and group practices similar to those of physicians. Forward-thinking APRNs and CGNPs would be intelligent to consider novel and slightly less mainstream forms of care delivery for their elderly patients, including telemedicine, practices centered on house calls, and retainer-based concierge services.

Savvy 21st-century consumers will continue to seek expanded options for their own care. We can also rest assured that many astute baby boomer adult children will be driven by a desire to find the best possible healthcare management for their aging parents.

Opportunity knocks

Opportunity is knocking for APRNs who seek to create satisfying careers caring for an aging population in need of high-quality primary care. Opportunity is also broadening for those aging Americans who desire primary care based on the holistic, patient-oriented models so central to nursing practice.

Advanced practice registered nurses can change the landscape of geriatric healthcare in the 21st century. The time has come, and the aging of America makes the need greater than ever.