As the need for nurse practitioners becomes more and more evident, so does the value of their approach to healthcare. Not only are they filling gaps in patient care, they are transforming the practice of medicine in ways that will benefit patients and communities for years to come.
Over time, the roles of nurses have expanded, and the number of nurses pursuing advanced degrees has tripled. Nurse practitioners can be found in hospital settings such as obstetrics, neo-natal ICU, and other critical care units. They also practice in out-patient settings as varied as pediatrics, mental health, women’s health, geriatrics, college campuses, and family practice.
Managed care, high physician malpractice rates, and increasing patient populations have put a large burden on physicians, making it almost impossible to meet the needs of their patients. In addition, many people have decreased access to healthcare because they are under-insured or have no health insurance at all. NPs are filling the void in the healthcare system. They provide most of the same primary care services that physicians do, including basic health screenings, routine physicals, immunizations, and health education. They also diagnose and treat illness, order and interpret lab tests and x-rays, and arrange consultations with specialists when indicated.
According to the National League for Nursing, nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists have been found to reduce costs and improve access to primary health care to the poor in urban and rural areas. “Estimates of increases in the productivity of physician practices that include nurse practitioners range from 20 to 90 percent.”* The American health care system has emphasized curative, institutional and dependence oriented service at very high costs. Patients are not well served by this approach, and nurses can do a lot to change it. “As relationships with patients grow, patients use fewer institutional services and only then, those that are really needed.”*
So why choose a nurse practitioner as your primary care provider? NPs are known for spending time with their patients, and for using a holistic approach. They are also strong advocates of patient education and soliciting input from their patients when designing each individual’s plan of care. Patients who actively partner with their PCP have been shown to be more compliant with their plan of care. Research has also shown that patients who use an NP as their PCP have fewer emergency room visits, shorter hospital stays, and often lower medication costs.
In this age of rising healthcare costs, NPs are making a difference in keeping those costs down. They serve in rural areas and county clinics, bringing top-notch care to underserved populations. The above facts make it abundantly clear that nurse practitioners are meeting many needs and providing an invaluable service. As they continue to gain recognition and support in the medical community, they are carving their own niche and transforming health care in America.
*National League for Nursing Position Statement, 1990
Elisa Juarez is President of MasterQuest Recruiting & Consulting in Arlington, TX. Her firm specializes in RNs, NPs, and Nurse Managers. www.mquestrecruit.com
Marilyn G. Brown, RN, FNP, ARNP, is an experienced nurse and NP that is currently practicing in the CCU of a Dallas hospital. She also works part-time with Physicians Geriatrics Services in Dallas, TX.