At some point in your or a loved one’s lifetime, there may be a need for a primary caregiver. When this happens, one may believe that this need can only be met by an MD. However, there is another option – a nurse practitioner.
What is a Nurse Practitioner?
Simply put, a nurse practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse who has advanced education and training within their field. As an NP, they are able to:
- Write prescriptions
- Diagnose and treat serious conditions
- Order tests to diagnose, such as lab work or X-rays
- Oversee the overall care of a patient
- Be primary care providers
- Have board-certifications in specializations such as women’s health, for example
Apart from performing surgery on their own, nurse practitioners can basically carry out the same duties as an MD, depending on the state.
There are a few differences: MDs spend more time training than NPs, are licensed differently, and are harder to get an appointment with than NPs.
What is Primary Care?
Primary care refers to the main form of care essential to affordable and effective health care. It is provided by health care professionals who have the skills necessary to manage a wide scope of health needs, as well as practice health care in a way that develops sustained medical relationships with patients and the community at large. According to NCBI, primary care (and increased access to it) is associated with:
- The reduction in the need for specialty care
- Better preventative care which, in turn, results in lower costs and lower mortality rates
- Lower hospitalization rates
Nurse Practitioners in Primary Care
Despite these differences, nurse practitioners have become increasingly in demand as primary caregivers. At the same time, the US is facing a shortage of physicians which could rise to 120,000 by 2030. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, this is due to the rise in chronic illness and the aging population of the country’s Baby Boomers. In fact, in 2018, the number of working, licensed professional NPs reached an all-time high of 270,000 and continues to grow, helping meet the demand for access to and choice of primary care in America.
Benefits of a Nurse Practitioner in Primary Care
- The Benefit of Choice: Firstly, it is important to highlight the benefit of simply having the option to choose your primary caregiver. As of 2018, patients choose nurse practitioners in over 1 billion visits annually, nationwide. The ability to choose your primary caregiver can contribute significantly to the patient’s health and ability to heal faster.
- Ease of Access: With the decreasing number of physicians and the increasing number of practicing nurse practitioners in primary care, getting access to an NP is much easier than trying to be seen by an MD. This results in less waiting time and directly helps contribute to a faster healing period for patients.
- Personalized Care: Nurse Practitioners in primary care tend to be more focused on the lives of patients in their community and tend to give more attention than their MD counterparts. They not only focus on healing but on preventative care as well, placing importance on their patient’s quality of life.
- Specialized Care: While some MDs go into general practice, those who specialize tend to be highly specialized. For example, cardiovascular surgeons only perform surgery on the heart. On the other hand, NPs specializations tend to be broader. With many nurse practitioners specializing in areas such as women’s health, family health, and pediatric health, patients are increasingly likely to not only have ease of access to an NP but also have ease of access to an NP who can provide specialized care.
- Affordability: According to a study done in 2016, care provided by nurse practitioners was 29% less than that of MDs. Therefore, choosing a nurse practitioner over an MD can reduce costs for patients and encourage them to seek medical care sooner rather than later.
- Quality vs. Cost Effectiveness: Nurse Practitioners in primary care are highly skilled and provide high-quality service to their patients. In recent years, Bauer came to the conclusion that there is consistent and extensive evidence which proves that nurse practitioners provide health care that is of equal or better quality than the same services provided by others and at a lower cost. Simply put, choosing an NP gives patients the benefits of high-quality service at a lower cost.
- A Different Approach: Nurse practitioners are known for their enhanced ability to interact with patients. Their training focuses on health education and counseling, as well as treatment and prevention. This often means that nurse practitioners are more willing to help ensure that patients are better able to look after themselves and receive more than just medical care.
Nurse Practitioners in Primary Care: The Obvious Choice
Throughout the years, there has been a growing demand for nurse practitioners in primary care – and for a good reason. They provide patient-centered health care to a wide range of populations while catering to different needs. It can be argued that their medical training, combined with the personal care they provide their patients gives them an edge over MDs.
As many areas face challenges such as the rising cost of health care, an aging population, and an increase in chronic disease, nurse practitioners in primary care have been able to (and continue to) help raise the quality of health care to many communities while addressing these challenges. No matter your condition or situation, there is a nurse practitioner to meet your health care needs. Choose a nurse practitioner for personalized, specialized, and affordable care.