Why Nurse Practitioners Are Increasingly Essential to Modern Healthcare

The US is currently home to more nurses than any other healthcare professional. And the growth experienced in the nursing profession due to the increasing demand for nurses and shortage of primary care physicians has led to increased growth in the number of advanced practice nurses such as nurse practitioners.

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice nurse who is required to have obtained at least a master’s degree in nursing. After gaining this qualification, you must also be certified by a professional nursing organization and licensed to provide advanced nursing care in your state. Certain states provide full practice authority to NPs, allowing them to diagnose, prescribe medication and treatment, and refer patients to specialists without the need for them to be signed off by a primary care physician. Other states allow nurse practitioners to make these decisions but only under the supervision of a medical doctor.

There are currently over 140,000 registered nurse practitioners in the US. These advanced healthcare professionals are having a positive impact on the healthcare system that is growing steadily. Along with their work in a variety of different healthcare settings and workplaces and their ability to function either independently or in collaboration with medical doctors in many states, nurse practitioners are facilitating several newer and more convenient forms of patient care delivery, along with acting as advocates for their patients. Here are some of the main ways in which nurse practitioners are impacting the healthcare system today.

Stepping In to Fill the Primary Physician Shortage:

With fewer medical students than ever before entering primary care, general medicine, or family practice, the demand for nurse practitioners who can fill the gap caused by this shortage and ensure that the aging population is able to access the care that they require is growing. Compared to primary care training for medical doctors, primary care training programs for nurse practitioners are increasing in popularity, allowing these professionals to offset the shortage of primary care medical doctors in various areas nationwide. In fact, some NP training programs are becoming so popular that they are having to turn applicants away.

Providing Equal Medical Care Quality:

Studies and analysis of the effectiveness of nurse practitioners in the delivery of patient care have suggested that nurse practitioners provide an equal standard and quality of care to that of primary care doctors, both when it comes to patient satisfaction and patient mortality. The Office of Technology Assessment suggests that nurse practitioners provide care that is equivalent in quality to that provided by primary care physicians within their competence and specialty areas. As a result, this has had a growing positive impact on primary care doctor’s offices where additional medical professionals are needed to increase the quality and scope of care offered.

More Efficient Doctor’s Offices:

In certain states, nurse practitioners are not provided full practice authority and must work alongside and under the supervision of a primary care physician. However, whether or not full practice authority is permitted, nurse practitioners everywhere can support primary care physicians to operate more efficient practices that are able to continue offering high-quality standards of care while taking on more patients. One of the main benefits of nurse practitioners who work alongside primary care physicians in doctor’s offices is that it can help with the prevention of unnecessary emergency visits and make it easier for patients to get the care that they need in a timely manner.

Reducing Healthcare Costs:

While there are limited studies comparing the cost of care delivered by nurse practitioners to that delivered by a primary care physician, studies based on healthcare insurance claims suggest that nurse practitioner care tends to be associated with lower costs. For example, one study that was conducted on healthcare costs in the state of Massachusetts found that the average cost of visiting a nurse practitioner for primary care was on average around 20-30% cheaper for patients compared to getting care from a medical doctor.

Retail Clinic Expansion:

In recent years, the idea of retail clinics where patients can get quick help with minor healthcare conditions and healthcare advice when on the go have become exceedingly popular. Retail clinics are often found within drugstores or supermarkets such as Target and Walmart, providing same-day urgent care along with a range of healthcare services that patients can take advantage of while running everyday errands such as grocery shopping. They are also a convenient option for people who need medical care when traveling out of town or people who need quick healthcare advice that does not warrant making an appointment with the doctor. In many states, these retail clinics are run exclusively by nurse practitioners, who are expanding patient access to basic healthcare services and making it easier for patients who would have struggled to get this healthcare and advice otherwise.

Key Part of Team-Based Healthcare:

As primary care physicians become increasingly overwhelmed with a general population that is aging and becoming more chronically ill, team-based healthcare is an essential solution for patients and medical providers today. Healthcare teams will often be made up of primary care doctors, specialist doctors, assistants, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, nursing technicians, and other healthcare professionals. Nurse practitioners can often be found in team-based healthcare environments, supporting other healthcare professionals, and lessening this load on primary care doctors.

Improving Care Quality:

The US still falls behind other developed nations when it comes to delivering quality healthcare services, according to a study by the Commonwealth Fund. In relation to the cost of healthcare, the US has the lowest healthcare performance, coming in at the bottom of eleven countries including Germany, Canada, and the UK in terms of access to healthcare, healthcare quality, and the efficiency of services. Nurse practitioners are an important healthcare professional role for improving this situation. They provide more patient-centered and safe care in an effective and timely way. Many patients report a higher level of satisfaction when they are provided with primary care by a nurse practitioner and studies have found that nurse practitioner care often leads to lower readmissions, fewer unnecessary ER visits, and fewer preventable hospitalizations.

Improving Healthcare Access:

Nurse practitioners are playing a vital role in improving the access to healthcare for many patients, especially those who live in rural and remote areas. In these areas, patients are less likely to have access to the same type of healthcare and health facilities that you would expect to find in more urban and suburban areas. In remote and rural areas within states where nurse practitioners are permitted to operate independently of a primary care physician with full practice authority, this has been instrumental in improving the amount and standard of healthcare that is available in the area, particularly in areas that have been hit the hardest by the shortage of primary care physicians.

Implementing a Patient-Centered Approach:

Their unique, patient-centered approach to healthcare is often the main factor that sets nurse practitioners apart from other healthcare professionals today. Having had a career in nursing, nurse practitioners are very focused on providing preventative care with a holistic and balanced understanding of patient health and overall wellbeing. Due to the nursing skills that they have acquired over time, nurse practitioners are more likely to provide an all-encompassing patient care experience with excellent communication and empathy for their patients. Nurse practitioner training programs are designed to build on the skills and knowledge that nurses already have. This gives them the ability to provide a high-quality level of care that takes into consideration the different social, environmental, and other factors that can have an impact on patient health and wellbeing. As a result, nurse practitioners are often better positioned to deliver preventative care programs, patient education, and counseling services in their respective areas.

Providing a Personalized Approach to Care:

Consumers in every industry expect a personalized experience today, and healthcare is no different. In 2018, a study found that around 70% of patients prefer more personalized healthcare services and would like their healthcare provider to place higher importance on the various personal factors that influence their overall health and wellbeing. Nurse practitioners are professionals who base the care that they provide on a holistic and patient-centered approach, making them the best candidates for improving the personalization and individuality of patient care today.

Healthcare Policy Improvements:

Many of the issues that the healthcare industry is facing today have further highlighted the need for important changes to policies. Today, there is a huge push for new and improved policies that focus on providing the best patient outcomes. Nurse practitioners have an impact on patient care that extends beyond the lives of individual patients to whole communities. Nurse practitioners are not only important for providing direct and holistic patient care but also when it comes to advocating for their patients to improve healthcare policy and standards overall.

Nurse practitioners are becoming a highly valuable part of the healthcare system today and they are making huge improvements to many different areas of how we access health and care.

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