Health care trends: looking for value without sacrificing quality
(BPT) - If there is one thing that the recent health care debate made clear, it is that Americans are unwilling to trade quality for economy when it comes to their health. But with the growing shortage of primary care physicians
in the United States and an aging population, one trend born in underserved areas of the country may have the ability to cut costs without sacrificing quality: the use of non-physician professionals, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners, in primary care facilities.
Physician assistants and nurse practitioners can provide clear benefits for the financial side of the health care industry. When patients see a physician assistant or nurse practitioner instead of a physician, medical practices are able to serve more patients for a lower cost while receiving the same amount in reimbursement for many procedures. This is because the non-physician professionals are paid less than physicians, yet many services are reimbursed the same, regardless of which practitioner provides the care.
"Using non-physician professionals can increase the effectiveness of the clinic's providers by allowing the physician assistant or nurse practitioner to take care of less complicated patient issues and leaving the physician to treat the more complex cases," Marta E. Urdaneta, Ph.D., chair of the healthcare management program at the Savannah, Ga., campus of South University
Urdaneta says that in rural and other under-served areas, non-physician professionals have been providing care for years, but the pattern is increasing even in more dense and affluent areas.
But are patients comfortable with being treated by medical professionals without "MD" behind their names? Doris Parrish, RN, Ph.D., nursing program director at South University's Savannah campus, says that Americans have a growing acceptance of care provided by non-physicians.
"Patients are not only becoming more used to receiving care from nurse practitioners and other non-physician providers, but they aren't seeing any reduction in the quality of care," says Parrish. "And, in fact, patient satisfaction scores are very good for both physician assistants and nurse practitioners."
Recent studies, including ones published in the journals of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (2006) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (2007), have found that in routine situations, patients trust the technical competence of physicians and non-physician providers alike.
But patient satisfaction is about communication as well as competence. And since physicians usually have responsibility for more patients than non-physician providers do, a nurse practitioner or physician assistant may have more time to talk to patients - and to listen to them.
Being able to navigate the complex diagnoses and treatment options in modern medicine is important. And since non-physician professionals work under the supervision of a physician, they can seek advice and confirmation of decisions when necessary.
That kind of teamwork is the key to quality care, says Urdaneta.
"As each member of the team focuses on an aspect of care from their professional perspective, it is vital that all work together in order to provide seamless, quality service without unnecessary costs or complications."
As physician assistants and nurse practitioners become more common throughout the country, patients are beginning to embrace the idea of the team approach to health care and the notion that costs can be cut without a decrease in quality.