The results of a recent study surprised researchers, Dr. Yong Fang Kuo and his colleagues at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. They found that elderly patients with diabetes who received care from nurse practitioners were less likely to be hospitalized compared with those that received care from MDs.
The researchers sampled 345,819 Medicare patients who had been diagnosed with diabetes, 93,443 receiving their primary care from a nurse practitioner and 252,376 from a generalist physician. The data collected showed that patients looked after by nurse practitioners were 10 percent less likely to be hospitalized for preventable conditions, and 6 percent less likely to be hospitalized for things like hypoglycemia.
The study began as a means of addressing the rising demand for nurse practitioners that serve as primary care providers in the midst of a shortage of primary care physicians. While this has done much to address the shortage, with a 1500 percent increase in the number of patients receiving primary care from nurse practitioners since 1998, many states and healthcare providers are still skeptical that nurse practitioners can provide the same quality of care.
These findings alleviate some of those concerns, showing that nurse practitioners are, at the very least, capable of offering comparable, if not higher quality, care. Dr. Kuo warned that the study’s findings are far from conclusive and that there are still many variables that could have impacted patient care over the course of the study. However, he and his co author, Dr. Mukaila A. Raji, MD, both agree that nurse practitioners are qualified to play a key role in improving access to primary care, especially those living in rural areas with less access to general physicians.
Dr. Raji warned that because the study was comprised of elderly U.S. patients, the study’s results still cannot be presented to the general U.S. population or to other countries; however, Dr. Raji does believe that similar results would be seen in those other patient populations, and advocates for further study.