The steady rise of nurse practitioners in primary care
Friday, February 05, 2016
Jan. 31 was the last day for uninsured Americans to sign up for healthcare insurance under the Affordable Care Act to avoid tax penalties. According to preliminary reports, more than 12.7 million Americans have signed up for coverage in 2016.
With the enormous influx of new patients accessing healthcare in the last few years, the need for providers will continue to be stretched. Nurse practitioners are well suited to meet that demand.
Since the advent of nurse practitioners (NPs) in the 1960s, their value as healthcare providers has grown exponentially. NPs are highly educated and skilled clinicians who blend clinical expertise in diagnosis and treatment, with an emphasis on disease prevention and health management. What has always set them apart from other healthcare providers is their unique emphasis on the well being of the whole person.
Studies have routinely shown that nurse practitioners provide at least the same quality of care to patients when compared to physicians. They have also been found to have equal or higher patient satisfaction rates in comparison to their physician counterparts.
Primary care focus
With the main focus on the total well being of their patients, NPs are perfectly primed to meet the growing need of primary care providers.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there is a projected shortage of 130,000 physicians by 2025. This stems mostly from the aging and growing population, as well as the increase in access to healthcare from the Affordable Care Act's newly insured.
With nurse practitioners trained in primary care and disease prevention and education, they would appear to be the ideal candidates to meet the workforce shortage that is on the horizon.
With the shift from fee-for-service payment to value-based funding, many providers are looking for ways to provide and focus on quality care and outcomes. Value-based models of care require the best outcomes at the lowest cost.
As a solution, many practices are incorporating the expertise of nurse practitioners who can guide patients in making better health and lifestyle choices that will assist in lowering the patients' out-of-pocket costs and improve their health. Currently, 52 percent of family practice physicians are working with NPs, and that number is expected to rise.
Despite their extensive education and role as a valuable part of the healthcare team, NPs continue to have restrictions on care that can be provided.
The 2010 Institute of Medicine's groundbreaking report "The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health" recommended that nurses should be allowed to practice to the full extent of their education and training. This called for the removal of historical, regulatory and policy boundaries that prevent NPs to practice at their full extent.
Each state licensing board determines the full extent to which NPs can practice in their state. This varies widely across the nation. Legislative actions continue to be brought forth and will need to be addressed based on the evolving needs of healthcare.
Future is bright
Despite perceived pushbacks, the future for nurse practitioners is great. Their patients, their peers and lawmakers alike are recognizing their value, and NPs are becoming more in demand.
The job outlook for NPs continues to grow, and the outlook through 2024 is much higher than average. So, when looking for a primary care provider, patients might want to consider a nurse practitioner.
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