The physician shortage has become a familiar issue for patients nationwide. You may wait weeks for an appointment, and then spend hours in the waiting room when the day finally comes—only for an appointment that lasts a few minutes. There are just not enough physicians to go around, and in fact, the AAMC estimates that there will be a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030. And while locum tenens physicians can relieve some of the burden many clinics face and get patients seen faster and provide better care, sometimes there’s still just not enough to go around.
How can we address this shortage in care and get patients the care they need? Nurse Practitioners (NPs) may be the answer. While these licensed care providers may not be full-fledged physicians, their care quality is on par with physician care—and often comes with a lower cost.
We looked at a few of the ways that nurse practitioners can help alleviate the physician shortage:
Numbers of Nurse Practitioners Growing Faster
The number of new nurse practitioners (NPs) each year is growing rapidly, and far outpaces the rate of growth for new physicians. In 2017, in fact, the inflow of NPs and physician assistants (PAs) to the healthcare industry exceeded the inflow of physicians. As these numbers only increase, there will only be more and more opportunities for NPs and other non-physician providers to assist in providing care to patients who would otherwise have had to endure significant wait times for care.
Practice in Rural Areas
Since physicians are often concentrated in urban areas, rural areas are often the first to suffer when physicians become scarce. Locum tenens physicians and/or telemedicine providers can provide much-needed assistance in times like this—but so can nurse practitioners and other non-physician providers. As rural areas often suffer most from reduced access, nurse practitioners can provide highly valuable assistance in those areas.
It’s a Partnership
While nurse practitioners can provide highly valuable assistance in a shortage like this one, it’s important to remember that nurse practitioners and physicians work best together. In an ideal world, it’s a highly effective partnership, where NPs refer more complicated issues to a physician for treatment but are able to address most of the simpler issues themselves.
The physician shortage is a serious struggle for all members of the healthcare industry, from clinics, to medical staff, to the care providers themselves. If nurse practitioners and other non-physician healthcare providers can step up and relieve some of that burden, so much the better. Everyone benefits: Patients get seen faster, and physicians have one less item on their to-do lists. It’s a win-win scenario.
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