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The Nurse Practitioner’s Role in 2017
Driven by a greater emphasis on patient-centered care along with the needs of an aging population, the number of registered nurse practitioners in the United States has doubled over the last decade according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. Parallel to this growth, an ongoing primary care clinician shortage means that nurse practitioners have been taking on greater responsibilities and seeing more patients. Such trends are likely to continue in 2017 and beyond.
But which specific roles will nurse practitioners fill this year?
Increasing the focus on preventive care
A proactive, preventive approach to medical care is associated with better patient outcomes and quality of life. Nurse Practitioners often focus on prevention, as noted by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners: “As clinicians that blend clinical expertise in diagnosing and treating health conditions with an added emphasis on disease prevention and health management, NPs bring a comprehensive perspective to health care.” This comprehensive perspective not only makes Nurse Practitioners ideal partners for physicians, but also makes them efficient independent clinicians.
As the physician shortage looms, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the Nurse Practitioner role to grow far faster than average, at a 19% rate through 2020. Indeed, as patients continue to seek out access to reliable care, more and more people will turn to Nurse Practitioners for primary and preventive care.
Being at the forefront of telemedicine
Increased adoption of telemedicine tools – from video conferencing technologies to mobile apps that allow patients to access their care teams from anywhere – is likely to continue this year, and nurse practitioners are positioned to take on a leading role in their use. Advanced nurse practitioners with specialized knowledge can now provide consultations to patients thousands of miles away, allowing residents of rural, remote or otherwise underserved locations to be seen.
These technologies also provide a means for patients to reach clinicians during off-hours without making a lengthy trip to the emergency room. Telemedicine boosts convenience for busy patients who can speak with clinicians from their own homes or offices, removing the disruptions associated with long drives, hectic parking and extensive waiting periods in the clinic. Virtual visits also increase efficiency with lower overhead costs.
Additionally, nurse practitioners are likely to frequently use provider-to-provider digital communication software to share imaging and test results information with other members of a patient’s care team or to get input from colleagues.
While most of the technologies used in telemedicine aren’t new, their widespread adoption was previously limited by a lack of coverage to pay for them. But this is changing: According to Mercer, 59% of large employers today offer some type of telemedicine coverage, compared to just 30% in 2015.
Unfortunately, licensing issues also limit the use of telemedicine, as U.S. providers in one state cannot consult a patient in another state unless they are also licensed there.
Serving more patients
With more direct access to nurse practitioners, we can naturally expect that a greater number of patients will be seeing nurse practitioners. In an effort to push back against increasing medical costs, insurers and other payers may enact programs that encourage patients to seek treatment from nurse practitioners, whose services are generally much less expensive than those offered by physicians. A greater number of available clinicians may also mean more comprehensive care for rural and underserved populations.
Making house calls
Many healthcare journalists are highlighting the return of home visits as an increasingly common practice in American medicine today. Thomas R. Bizzaro, R.Ph., of Inside Patient Care, attributes its comeback to another consequence of the country’s aging population, as more seniors want to stay in their homes as long as possible. At-home care can also be a smart choice to avoid exposing vulnerable patients to the multidrug-resistant bacteria that have become endemic in todays hospitals and long-term care facilities.
Inside Patient Care highlights modern house calls as those that include both pharmacists visiting at-risk patients for medication management and physicians improving care and reducing readmission rates. With the extension of prescribing and practicing privileges, advanced nurse practitioners are likely to take on some of these responsibilities, along with other services that used to require a visit to the clinic, such as chemotherapy infusions
Staffing retail clinics
Another strategy for boosting health care access, convenience and efficiency is seen in the rise of retail clinics, such as Walgreen’s, Kroger, CVS Health and Wal-Mart. With 82% of large employers now including coverage for retail clinics in their employee health plans according to Mercer, these options are likely seeing an influx of patients. As in other areas of primary care and general practice, nurse practitioners are the ones to meet these increasing demands.
How to prepare yourself for the future
We can expect to see a greater number of diverse career options for nurse practitioners in 2017 and over the next few years. Luckily, the online Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Maryville University is designed to provide practicing nurses with busy schedules a means to do so. Learn more about your options by visiting Maryville University online.