The Nurse Practitioner Role: Improving Quality of Care and Saving Costs

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Nurse practitioners (NPs) are rapidly becoming the health care providers of choice for an increasing number of Americans each year. NPs are advanced practice registered nurses who are qualified to treat a wide variety of illnesses, diseases, and conditions. They can also order diagnostic tests and perform detailed physical examinations, and in some states, prescribe medication.

To learn more, check out the infographic below, created by Bradley University’s Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program.

Infographics on the nurse practitioner role in improving the quality of care and saving costs

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Chapter 1: Hiring NPs Can Increase Health Care Efficiency

Requiring physicians to attend to every patient is extremely inefficient and often leads to their being overworked, which can jeopardize patient outcomes and safety.

Physician Shortage and Impact

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects a physician shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 doctors by 2034. Data from the American Medical Association and the Mayo Clinic suggests several reasons for this: 62.8% of physicians experienced at least one episode of burnout in 2021; just 30.2% of physicians were satisfied with their work-life balance; and only 22.4% of physicians felt professionally fulfilled.

The size of the physician workload is also a contributing factor. The workload is so massive, primary care physicians (PCPs) would require 26.7 hours per day to handle all their daily responsibilities.

NPs and Quality of Care

The work of NPs can fill the gap caused by the physician shortage and improve care quality along the way. Compared to physicians, patients under the care of NPs have fewer preventable hospitalizations, fewer unnecessary hospital readmissions, fewer unnecessary emergency room visits, and higher patient satisfaction. NPs can also help reduce costs by improving access to care. An NP’s cost of care compared to a physician’s cost of care is 34% lower in low-risk situations, 28% lower in mid-risk situations, and 21% lower in high-risk situations.

Chapter 2: The Need for More NPs

NPs can provide many of the same care delivery services as physicians, particularly those pertaining to routine health care facility visits. NPs tend to have the primary care qualifications needed to deliver care on this level. For example, 88.9% of NPs are certified in an area of primary care, 70.2% can deliver primary care, and 42.5% of full-time NPs have hospital privileges.

Core NP Duties

NPs handle several tasks that allow them to deliver quality care. They record medical histories and patient symptoms, and perform patient exams. They also create new patient care strategies and contribute to existing ones. Additionally, they order and conduct diagnostic tests, analyze test results, and diagnose health issues — tasks that may require them to operate medical equipment.

If NPs practice in states with full prescriptive authority, they’re allowed to prescribe medications to patients. Regardless of this ability, they can be tasked with observing a patient’s response to medications. NPs can also develop proactive patient health management strategies, which may entail collaborating with other health care professionals. In some cases, NPs can also engage in research.

The Need for NPs

The need for NPs in health care translates to widespread job opportunities. Positions for NPs are projected to increase 46% between 2021 and 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This translates to 112,700 new nurse practitioner jobs over that period.

NP Salary

NPs are also generally well compensated for helping to deliver quality care. The 2021 median annual salary for NPs was $120,680, the BLS reports, although there are a few factors that can influence the precise salary an individual may receive in the role. These factors can include education level, years of experience, and job location.

Chapter 3: Continuing the Process: Empowering NPs

NPs can provide quality, cost-efficient patient care. However, laws in several states prohibit them from delivering care independently, which potentially curtails their impact on care delivery.

Full Practice Authority

Granting NPs full practice authority allows them to evaluate and diagnose patients, analyze tests, prescribe medication, and manage treatments without physician supervision. Currently, 26 states allow full practice authority for NPs. California will enable full practice authority beginning in 2023.

There are numerous benefits to granting NPs full practice authority. NPs can help close the physician shortage gap. Granting full practice authority can also produce streamlined, more efficient care. Additionally, it can improve access to health care services for patients, increase patient choice, and decrease costs.

NPs and Rural Health

NPs with full practice authority can also help improve care delivery to rural areas, which is a crucial goal. Roughly 46 million people live in rural areas of the United States — a number that translates to 14% of the population, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

These residents have a higher risk of death from cancer, heart disease, accidents, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke. They also tend to be older than urban and suburban residents; have higher rates of obesity, smoking, and hypertension; and have higher poverty rates. Additionally, they have less health care access, are less likely to have health insurance, and have insufficient access to mental health services.

Rural areas also represent roughly 60% of the country’s health professional shortage areas. Concurrently, NPs represent 25.2% of health care providers in rural areas. Granting full practice authority to NPs can help close the physician gap by improving care access in these rural communities.

NPs: An Increasingly Impactful Force in Health Care

Nurse practitioners can provide quality health care, alleviate the pressures of the physician shortage, and improve access to care, especially in rural parts of the country. As the physician shortage continues and the concept of health care evolves, the role of the nurse practitioner — and the push toward full practice authority for NPs — will be more crucial than ever.