Last week, I wrote about the potential for nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) to address the looming primary care physician shortfall in the United States. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates the current shortage to be about 20,000 physicians, growing to 120,000 by 2030.
A new report from United Health Group finds that expanding scope-of-practice laws to allow NPs greater latitude to practice medicine without a doctor’s supervision would address as much as 70% of the primary care physician shortfall:
Nurse practitioners (NPs), physician assistants (PAs), and certified nurse midwives (CNMs) represent a growing part of the nation’s primary care workforce. These Advanced Practice Clinicians help expand primary care capacity and increase access to care, either by practicing independently or as part of multidisciplinary care teams that help primary care practices care for more patients.
Almost 80% of nurse practitioners practice primary care, compared to only 33% of physicians. Additionally, while 16,000 NPs graduate from primary care programs, only 5,000 physicians per year enter primary care residencies.
Based on these findings, the report concludes that of the 44 million Americans that face a primary care shortage (defined as those living in areas with more than 2,000 people per doctor), giving full practice to NPs would shrink that figure to 13 million–a 70% reduction.
The report finds similar statistics with respect to physician assistants: though only 28% of PAs practice primary care, that statistic will increase to 39% in 2025. Additionally, the report found that the quality of primary care for PAs is comparable to that of NPs or physicians.