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.

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