Healthcare’s Best-Kept Secret: Nurse Practitioners

If healthcare reform is to successfully overcome the realities of Washington politics, there is one problem in covering the millions of Americans who lack insurance coverage – the physician shortage.  Currently, there is a 30 percent shortage of primary-care physicians, and with less than 10 percent of 2008 medical school graduates choosing that career track.  When Massachusetts enacted mandates for universal health insurance in 2006, the state’s primary-care physicians48019286 were overwhelmed.  A similar scenario could occur on a national scale.

Nurse practitioners — who have advanced nursing degrees, are licensed by the state and often are allowed to prescribe medications — may fill that void because they can treat and diagnose patients at less cost than physicians.  Medicare reimburses nurse practitioners at 80 percent of what they pay doctors for similar services.

Nurse practitioners are vital to healthcare reform because they focus on patient-centered care and preventive medicine.  The House of Representatives has listed nurse practitioners as primary-care providers on their healthcare reform legislation bill.  The profession lobbied intensely to include this legislative language so they can play an important role in a revamped health system.

“We seem to be healthcare’s best-kept secret,” said Jan Powers, health policy director for the Academy of Nurse Practitioners.  Although nurse practitioners typically have less medical education than physicians, they are well trained in skills such as bedside manner and counseling.  “In the United States, we are so physician-centric in our health system.  But it should be about wellness and prevention, not about procedures and disease management,” said Rebecca Patton, president of the American Nursing Association.

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