Patients Open to More Care by NPs, PAs

In order to get more timely access to care, patients have indicated that they are open to greater roles for nurse practitioners and physician assistants, according to a new report.

While the country continues to stare down the barrel of the physician shortage, the industry is looking for creative ways to meet demand. According to a new study, patients are willing to be treated by nurse practitioners and physician assistants if it means timely access to care.

The Health Affairs study includes analysis of data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

The country is facing a shortage of 90,000 physicians by the year 2020, Darrell G. Kirch, MD, president and CEO of the AAMC, reminded in a statement, which means finding new ways so health care providers can be sure that patients have access to the care that they need.

“By our estimate, training 4,000 more doctors a year is a critically important part of the solution,” Kirch said. "But medical schools and teaching hospitals also are exploring innovative methods of care delivery that involve all members of the team to address patient needs when appropriate. This study shows that Americans are open to that possibility.”

While half of Americans in the survey preferred to have a physician as their primary care provider, they indicated a willingness to see NPs or PAs if it meant getting help sooner. According to the study by authors Michael Dill, Stacie Pankow, Clese Erikson and Scott Shipman, MD, most patients elected to see a PA or NP rather than wait.

“There is no single solution to this problem,” Kirch said. “We need to focus on building our capacity to train physicians, while also embracing the roles in which other professionals can serve.”

In September 2012 the American Academy of Family Physicians cautioned against simply substituting nurses for physicians in its own report. But the report does agree that team-based care will transform primary care in the U.S.

“Wholesale substitution of non-physician health care providers for physicians is not the solution, especially at a time when primary care practices are being called upon to take on more complex care,” Roland Goertz, MD, MBA, chair of the AAFP Board of Directors, said in a statement at the time. “Patients need access to every member of their health care team — starting with a primary care physician, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and all the other professionals who provide health care.”