Nurse Practitioners Ready to Mind the Gap

Obamacare’ is expected to expand health insurance to 32 million Americans over the next decade. This will inevitably lead to a spike in demand for medical services; leading many people to wonder who will provide that care. Maybe we need to wonder no more.

As you read this post, nurse practitioners (NPs) are throwing their hats in the ring and gearing up to be among the front runners.

Through advertisements, public service announcements and events, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) will try to raise the profile of the country’s 155,000 nurse practitioners.  Their campaign aims to explain exactly what nurse practitioners do and why patients should trust them with their medical needs.

AANP will also exploit the very real, looming doctor shortage. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges  the country will have 63,000 too few doctors by 2015.

With the serious shortage of family doctors in many parts of the country, nurse practitioners  will claim, in a series of radio public service announcements, that they can provide expert, compassionate and affordable care. The AANP will follow up on the public relations blitz with state-level lobbying efforts, looking to pass bills that will expand the range of medical procedures that their membership can perform.

A fully enabled nurse practitioner workforce will increase access to quality health care, improve outcomes and make the health-care system more affordable for patients all across America,” ­ says Penny Kaye Jensen, president of the AANP. “It is our goal to empower health care consumers in all 50 states with clear confirmation that NPs provide professional, compassionate and cost-effective primary health care, as we have done for more than forty years.”

In 16 states, “scope of practice” laws allow nurse practitioners to practice without the supervision of a doctor. Other states, however, require a physician to sign off on a nurse practitioner’s prescriptions, and/or diagnostic tests.

As the health insurance expansion looms, expanding those rules to other states has become a crucial priority for NPs. “We’re all educated and prepared to provide a full range of services,” said Taynin Kopanos, AANP’s director of state government affairs.

The nurse practitioners’ campaign, however, is unlikely to move forward without a fight. Physician groups, such as the American Medical Association (AMA), contend that such laws could put patients at risk and oppose the efforts of other professional societies to expand their medical authorities.

Nurse practitioners argue that they do have the skills necessary to treat patients with more autonomy. Unlike other nurses, all nurse practitioners hold either a master’s or doctorate degree in medical education.

Alongside the legislative push, the group also will focus on public education. Data suggest that they have their work cut out for them.

A 2010 AANP poll found that while most Americans report having been seen by a nurse practitioner, few knew that their medical expertise goes beyond that of traditional, registered nurses.

Only 14% of the adults surveyed thought that nurse practitioners could prescribe medication, an authority they have in all states and only 18% thought NPs could order diagnostic tests such as X-rays and MRIs.

People stop at the word nurse and don’t understand the word practitioner,” Jensen said. “Obviously we are nurses, but we also have advanced education. We think there’s a misunderstanding on the patients’ behalf.”

Lend your voice to the healthcare debate by sharing with us your thoughts on NPs, their visibility, their scope of practice and their role in the healthcare of our nation.

A Question of Health

As we’ve said before, and will doubtless say again – the more patients become more actively involved in their own health, the better the outcome.

So we were pleased to learn of a new public education initiative from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which encourages patients to have more effective two-way communication with their doctors and other clinicians.

The “Questions are the Answer,” campaign features a website packed with helpful advice and free educational tools for doctors and patients. Among the offerings:

  • A 7-minute video featuring real-life patients and clinicians who give firsthand accounts on the importance of asking questions and sharing information. The video has been designed for use in a patient waiting room area and can be set to run on a continuous loop
  • A brochure, titled “Be More Involved in Your Health Care: Tips for Patients,” that offers helpful suggestions to follow before, during and after a medical visit
  • Notepads to help patients prioritize the top three questions they wish to ask during their medical appointment.

In addition, the site has a series of patient and clinician videos in showing how simple questions can help you take better care of yourself, feel better, and get the right care at the right time. In one of these, Rachelle Toman, M.D., Ph.D., a family physician from Washington D.C., says if you are happy to ask your doctor and grocery store clerk a question, then why not your healthcare provider?

Patients need to come forth with questions, and providers need to be open about asking their patients questions, and asking their patients to ask questions,” she continues.

Put simply, questions allow doctors to take better care of you.

Are you ready to become an active member of your health care team and get your questions answered?

NP’s prevent patient readmissions

Researchers at Loyola University Health System  have shown that adding a nurse practitioner (NP) to an in-patient hospital surgical department can decrease post-operative emergency department (ED) visits. According to a study just published in Surgery, by improving the continuity in care and troubleshooting problems for patients, an NP can reduce ED visits. The addition of an NP also resulted in an improved use of resources and financial benefits for the health system.

NP’s are advanced practice registered nurses who have completed graduate-level education (either a Master’s or a Doctoral degree) and have a dramatically expanded scope of practice over the traditional RN role. Their core philosophy  is individualized care. Nurse practitioners focus on patients’ conditions as well as the effects of illness on the lives of  patients and their families and make prevention, wellness, and patient education their priorities.

The study analyzed 415 patient records one year before and one year after the NP joined the staff. The two groups were statistically similar in age, race, type of surgery, length of hospital stay and hospital readmissions. Patients were tracked after they were sent home from the hospital to determine how many unnecessarily returned to the ED (defined as an ED visit that did not result in an inpatient admission).

Mary Kay Larson, the nurse practitioner involved with this study, communicated with patients and coordinated their discharge plan. During this time, telephone conversations with patients increased by 64%; and visiting nurse, physical therapy or occupational therapy services increased from 25% before Larson joined the department to 39% after. Most importantly, these services resulted in 50% fewer unnecessary ED visits.

This study demonstrates the important role that nurse practitioners have in our increasingly complex health-care system,” said senior author Margo Shoup, MD, FACS, Division Director of Surgical Oncology, Loyola University Health System. “Hospitals must continue to adapt to the changing health-care environment. The addition of a nurse practitioner clearly represents a way that we can adjust to meet the increasing demands of patient care while we are being asked to do more with less.”

SRxA has long recognized the value of NP’s and physician assistants (PA’s) in both patient and peer-to-peer education. To help our clients gain access to this important and rapidly growing group of health professionals we have recently established an NP/PA group.   For more information, and to find out how you can leverage their expertise in your next project, contact us today.