Facing a nationwide shortage of primary care physicians, some states in recent years have eased up on regulations that create barriers for nurse practitioners who want to work as primary care providers.
That easing of rules has had the intended effect. According to a new study by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, those states with the fewest restrictions on nurse practitioners' scope of practice had two-and-a-half times more patients receiving primary care from nurse practitioners than did the most restrictive states.
"We wanted to look at what happened in states that allowed nurse practitioners more or less authority," said Yong-Fang Kuo, lead author of the study. "As you would expect, it makes a big difference. We can now clearly show that states with fewer regulations means more patients get the primary care they need."
This news is directly relevant to Texans right now, as State Senate Bill 406, which eases regulations on both nurse practitioners and physician assistants, was recently approved by the Texas Legislature and signed by the governor.
Increasing access to primary care is a key focus of national health reform efforts. States with a higher ratio of primary care providers to patients have lower Medicare expenditures and lower mortality rates. The shortage in primary care physicians has happened, in part, because more and more United States medical students are choosing medical specialty fields instead of primary care. In 1998, around 60 percent of U.S. medical students chose careers in primary care. Today, fewer than 25 percent do.
In the meantime, the past two decades have witnessed an increase in nurse practitioner training programs. There are more nurse practitioners in the U.S. now than ever before. States vary greatly, however, in how extensively they regulate nurse practitioners' scope of practice. In some states, they have essentially the same authority to practice that ph
|Contact: Molly Dannenmaier|
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston