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More Nurse Practitioners Slated to Meet Patient Care Access Needs

There are 270,000 licensed nurse practitioners prepared to fill physician shortage and patient care access gaps, according to AANP.

nurse practitioner patient care access

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Nurse practitioners are making their mark on patient care access as more NPs flood the healthcare jobs market, according to the 2018 National Nurse Practitioner Sample Survey from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

The survey, which included responses from the over 270,000 licensed nurse practitioners across the United States, revealed that more individuals are seeking this career path.

As of January 2019, there were 270,000 nurse practitioners in the country. That is a far cry from the 248,000 reported just nine months earlier in March 2018, and certainly an increase from the 120,000 licensed nurse practitioners in 2007.

The influx in licensed nurse practitioners is likely the result of a growing primary care provider shortage. The healthcare industry is currently feeling the pinch of having too few physicians to meet patient care access needs. By 2030, the nation is expected to see a primary care physicians shortage between 42,600 and 121,300 physicians, according to the Academy of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Nurse practitioners have emerged as critical to filling these patient care access gaps, according to AANP president Joyce Knestrick, PhD, APRN, CFNP, FAANP.

READ MORE: Physician Primary Care Visits Make Way for Visits with PAs, NPs

“NPs are the providers of choice for millions of patients,” Knestrick said in a statement. “Current provider shortages, especially in primary care, are a growing concern, yet the growth of the NP role is addressing that concern head-on. The faith patients have in NP-provided health care is evidenced by the estimated 1.06 billion patient visits made to NPs in 2018.”

Most nurse practitioners work in the primary care setting, the area in which the industry is feeling the provider shortage the most acutely. Sixty-seven percent of NPs focus on family medicine, while 12 percent focus on adult primary care and 6 percent on adult-gerontology primary care.

Private clinics make up the most common setting for NPs, with 24 percent saying they belong to a private practice. Fourteen percent of nurse practitioners work in hospital outpatient clinics, 12 percent in inpatient hospital units, 3 percent in emergency departments (EDs), 4 percent in urgent care clinics, and 8 percent in Federally-Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs).

These medical professionals come with considerable experience, the survey added. Ninety-five percent of NPs have graduate school degrees. Eighteen percent said they also have a doctorate degree.

The average nurse practitioner has also been in practice for 10 years, the survey noted.

READ MORE: The Rise of Nurse Practitioners Amidst Provider Burnout, Shortages

However, there is a growing population of new nurse practitioners, which the survey authors suggested indicates the impressive growth of the field. One-third of nurse practitioner respondents said they have been in practice for five years or less.

Additionally, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing revealed that over 26,000 NPs completed their educational practice between 2016 and 2017, with 87 percent of new graduates focusing on primary care.

This burgeoning medical field is likely an indicator of new practice models. As healthcare organizations emphasize convenience alongside quality care, nurse practitioners have become more valuable.

The above-mentioned physician shortage has also brought to the forefront the importance of nurse practitioners.

In fact, employing more nurse practitioners may be the key to addressing the national physician shortage.

READ MORE: Effective Nurse Communication Skills and Strategies

A separate study from United Health Group revealed that employing more nurse practitioners – and physician assistants – could fill patient care access gaps by 70 percent. Expanding scope of practice laws could also help meet basic patient health needs that do not always require a diagnosis from a licensed physician.

Despite the value that data suggests NPs bring to the care encounter, these medical professionals continue to face an uphill battle. It can sometimes be difficult for a nurse practitioner to engender patient trust, while some organizations do not believe a non-physician clinician will help their patient care access issues.

It will be essential for healthcare organizations to design models of care that measure and place due value on NP care, Knestrick said at Xtelligent Healthcare Media’s Value-Base Care Summit: Population Health even last April.

“Within many health systems, the PAs and NPs are not coded to show that they delivered certain services,” Knestrick said.  “That makes it very difficult for organizations to understand the value that they’re contributing, both from a patient care perspective and from a revenue and reimbursement perspective.

“We need to collect that data on what we do so that we’re not viewed as a cost center instead of a group that can bring profit.”

With that, organizations can begin to frame their NPs as valuable care team members to patients. Emphasizing an NP’s education level and primary care expertise can help patients understand the level of care the NP can provider.

As the healthcare industry continues to face both the physician shortage and demands for more wellness-based primary care, nurse practitioners will likely continue to receive attention. These non-physician clinicians may be instrumental in improving value for patients while filling in wide care access gaps.

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