Healthcare News & Insights

How your nurses can make up for your physician shortages

Many hospitals are struggling with a shortage of primary care providers, but there’s a way they can make up the difference: giving more responsibilities to their nurses. 

179269950The shortage of primary care physicians (PCPs) to aid patients with issues like chronic conditions is a serious issue for many healthcare facilities. Unfortunately, the shortage will probably only get worse in the next couple of years, according to Kaitlyn Krasselt and Jayne O’Donnel of USA today. There are currently several federal-funded programs focused on increasing the number of primary care doctors. By 2015, it’s expected that the programs will add over 2,000 PCPs to the industry.

But after 2015 those programs, which provide funding for teaching hospitals around the country, will end before reducing the shortage enough to meet the growing need.

It’s expected that the US would need to add more than 50,000 PCPs by 2025 — 8,000 to account for all the people newly insured under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), 33,000 to account for general population growth and then another 10,000 to meet the needs of the elderly.

Hopefully, the government will step in again to help increase the number of PCPs soon. But in the meantime, what can hospitals do to meet the challenges the shortage presents, such as helping patients mange chronic conditions?

Filling in the care gaps

The good news is that the solution is already in your hospital — your nurses.

Fierce Healthcare reports on a recent study that shows how nurses can take on larger roles in chronic care.

Eighteen studies were conducted on the effectiveness of nurses in managing chronic conditions, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol  and diabetes. Nurses in all the studies were able to manage patients’ changing symptoms by adjusting medication dosages prescribed by physicians. In several studies nurses were also effective at independently beginning patients on new medications.

The results found that patients with nurse-managed care  had:

  • better blood sugar overall
  • lower blood pressure
  • steeper reduction in LDL cholesterol, and
  • no adverse outcomes as a result of nurse-led care.

An important distinction is that the nurses weren’t handling all of the patients care independently. The researchers note that the nurses would work on teams of physicians, pharmacist and other healthcare professionals to develop care plans. As the head researcher puts it, “They’re not practicing by themselves. They’re just extending the care that you might get from a physician.”

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