Obtaining quality health care is a problem for many Americans. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) brief released in 2015, more than 58 million Americans live in primary healthcare provider shortage areas. Part of the reason for this is that relatively few physicians practice as generalists and build a practice around primary care.
An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that only 2% of all new physicians chose residencies in primary care or general medicine in 2008. Thus, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) projects the US will be short 20,400 primary care physicians by the time we reach 2020.
All is not doom and gloom; however, since a substantial body of research has found that advanced nurse practitioners provide high quality care, which in many ways is completely indistinguishable from the care that a physician would provide. The good news is that projections on primary care shortages do not take into account the growing contribution advanced practice nurses are making to primary care.
Some 127,000 Certified Nurse Practitioners, licensed as APRNs, provided patient care in the United States in 2012. About half practiced in primary care settings. Still, the potential for this workforce to contribute to the nation’s primary care needs is even greater, since nearly 90% of nurse practitioners have had training in primary care through their graduate program, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The data suggests that nurse practitioners are doing a great job of helping patients get quality care. Primary care nurse practitioners are significantly more likely than physicians to:
- Serve a high proportion of patients who lack insurance
- Practice in rural and urban areas
- Provide healthcare in a wider range of community settings
The HRSA projects that the number of primary care nurse practitioners will increase by 30% between 2010 and 2020. One advantage of relying more heavily on these professionals is that it takes about half as much time for a nurse practitioner to get fully trained and ready to provide care when compared to a physician.
Stakeholders across the board are advocating for a greater role for nurse practitioners in the US healthcare system, and it appears that taking advantage of skilled nurse practitioners will help to mitigate the projected shortfall of primary care physicians.