Jan 25, 2015
With healthcare costs reaching nearly insurmountable heights, exploiting nurse practitioners to the full extent of their abilities can help lessen the blow.
This is a guest post written by Brittni Brown. At eMedCert, we strongly encourage all forms of guest posting. If you are interested in publishing your work on the eMedCert blog, please contact our editorial team at [email protected].
Many of us - both within and outside of the medical realm - have heard the reports. They claim we are reaching an age of need in the medical world. Need for healthier lifestyles. Need for affordable healthcare. Need for more medical professionals. These reports project that over the next 10 years, over 118,000 nurses will reach the age of retirement. Furthermore, over 150,000 new physicians will be needed to meet the demands of aging baby boomers.
Declines in the number of health care professionals during a time of increasing chronic illness and an aging population have not escaped national policy makers. Most recently, health care reform has been dominated by The Affordable Care Act.
The act primarily focuses upon increasing the availability of reasonably priced medical attention by making changes in the requirements for health insurance, taking advantage of advancements in medical technology and working to decrease the gap between patients and qualified medical professionals. One way in which this is happening is by allowing nurse practitioners to practice to the fullest extent of their license.
Nurse practitioners (NPs) originally came on the scene in the mid 1960s during another period of physician shortages brought about by the widening of Medicare and Medicaid. Typically, NPs worked in pediatrics largely in rural or impoverished areas where access to medical attention by a physician was often difficult, if not impossible. In today’s world, nurse practitioners have been adopted in the healthcare system and upwards of 50% work in primary care. The position of nurse practitioner was designed to be autonomous, meaning NPs can act as independent physicians and are even able to open their own practice.
Are nurse practitioners qualified to take the place of doctors?
Short answer, yes. Nurse practitioners begin as registered nurses (RNs) and must log a number of clinical hours (how many depending upon the state they are practicing in) before going back to school to obtain a masters or doctorate as a nurse practitioner. During this time, they can choose to focus upon a specific portion of the medical field and specialize. Before becoming a licensed nurse practitioner, NPs are required to certify under a National Certification Program.
So how do nurse practitioners save the healthcare industry money?
It is cheaper to educate nurse practitioners for both the students and the higher education facilities. According to a 2011 article from the New England Journal of Medicine, “between 3 and 12 nurse practitioners can be educated for the price of educating 1 physician.” By avoiding the rising costs of medical school, NPs are able to avoid much of the associated debt. The average primary care physician leaves school with a burden of $141,000. Conversely, nurse practitioners only accrue approximately $64,000 of debt.
Furthermore, nurse practitioners are qualified to perform many of the same procedures as a physician, including: delivering babies, writing prescriptions, ordering tests, and diagnosing illnesses. Some of the only procedures NPs cannot perform are complicated/high risk cases and surgeries, which will generally be referred to a physician specializing in that particular area.
This translates into a lower income. The average income of a physician is $173,000 per year, whereas the average nurse practitioner makes $89,000 - still a formidable wage. This large salary difference tends to reflect a difference in patient expenses between those who visit nurse practitioners versus primary care physicians. According to the National Nursing Centers Consortium, the average patient saves 20% by visiting a nurse practitioner over a physician. The state of Massachusetts alone believes these differences allow it to save over $10 million per year on healthcare costs.
For the time being, changes in the cost of medical care are slow coming. The projected increase in health care needs over the next 10-15 years creates a scary gap in quality service. However, enabling nurse practitioners to practice medicine to the full extent of their licenses will enable the healthcare industry to both meet the demands of a greater number of sick people and lower the cost of primary care for all people.
Written by: Brittni Brown