Nurse practitioners' growing role in your health care - Primary-care doctor shortage, health reform drives growth in NPs
Nurse practitioners, or NPs, rank as one of the fastest growing health-care professions, with about 140,000 qualified to practice in the U.S., up from 125,000 in 2008, according to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).
NPs, registered nurses with a master's degree, are trained to perform many of the same tasks as your family physician. They cost the health-care system less, provide similar or sometimes better quality care and patients tend to be just as satisfied with their service, studies suggest.
Regulations vary from state to state as to how much autonomy NPs may have, but most practice under a doctor's supervision and only about 10,000 NPs run their own practices in the 11 states that allow it.
Stressing patient-safety concerns, the American Medical Association opposes any regulatory changes increasing NPs' autonomy. But both clinical need and research to the contrary ultimately will trump a turf war between doctors and NPs, said Jeffrey C. Bauer, a medical economist with Chicago-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc.
Earlier this year Bauer conducted a review of dozens of published studies about NPs from 1981 to 2009 and couldn't find one that contradicted NPs' ability to provide equal or better quality care than physicians across many areas of nursing and medical practice.