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Patients, Physicians Warming Up to NPs and PAs Providing Care

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U.S. healthcare consumers are slowly getting used to the idea of receiving care from Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners, Fatimah Waseem of USA Today reports.

According to a study conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges, “About half of U.S. consumers prefer physicians for primary healthcare, but patients are willing to see Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners to secure timely access to care.”

Part of the study dealt with how long patients were willing to wait in order to be seen for something like a cough. One-quarter of the respondents said they’d rather wait an extra day if it meant treatment by a physician, but nearly 60 percent said they’d accept treatment by a physician assistant or nurse practitioner if they could get in on the same day.

It’s important to note that many physicians object to the expanded roles and responsibilities healthcare is giving to NPs and PAs. In fact, Waseem recalls a 2012 study from the American Medical Association that directly contradicts this study. “In that survey, three out of four patients said they prefer to be treated by a physician even if it takes longer to get an appointment and costs more.”

The AMA advocates “a physician-led team approach to care,” but Darrell Kirch, M.D., President and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, said, “We need to focus on building our capacity to train physicians while also embracing the roles in which other professionals can serve.”

Necessity may render this ongoing back-and-forth useless, since the roles of Advanced Practitioners is becoming even more vital in healthcare as the physician-shortage crisis worsens and healthcare reform enables more patients to enter the system. The medical colleges association predicts physician shortages will hit 90,000 by 2020, Waseem writes.

Furthermore, the 65-and-older population “is expected to double by 2060” and that’s “the segment of the population most in need of healthcare.”

Whether they like it or not, there are physicians who may have to embrace PAs and NPs in order to continue providing high-quality care to their patients and managing their populations. Another study, in fact, this one from the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, found that more Family Physicians are using PAs and NPs as time goes by.

According to Waseem, “About 60 percent of family physicians collaborate with physician assistants and nurse practitioners to care for patients, suggesting this team-based approach may ‘help alleviate patient access to healthcare issues.’”

To the physician assistants and nurse practitioners reading this, what have been your experiences as you look for jobs? Are they similar to what these studies have found: both physicians and patients are warming to you?

And to the physicians reading this, are you more open to the idea of PAs and NPs taking a greater responsibility in the provision of care? How does the role of the PA and NP play into the type of environment in which you’re willing to work?

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