Many states may reconsider laws restricting nurse practitioners’ ability to treat patients as the U.S. faces a growing shortage of primary care physicians.
“If all States were to allow [nurse practitioners] to practice to the full extent of their graduate education … the number of U.S. residents living in a county with a primary care shortage would decline from 44 million to fewer than 13 million – a 70 percent reduction,” stated a United Health Group (UHG) report published in early September.
Thirteen percent of U.S. residents live in counties that have primary care doctor shortages, which UHG defines as less than one primary care physician per 2,000 individuals. People who live in rural areas are most likely to have difficulty seeing a primary care doctor.
The lack of access to care will only get worse, UHG said. Researchers predict an overall decline in the number of doctors including a shortage of 49,000 primary care physicians by 2030, according to the UHG report.
Only one in six medical school graduates “selected a primary care residency program” in 2017, according to the UHG report.
Advanced practice clinicians like nurse practitioners and physician assistants can fill in the missing pieces, but only if state laws allow them to, according to UHG.
While 22 states allow nurse practitioners to practice without a doctor’s supervision by “evaluating, diagnosing, and treating patients and prescribing medication,” 28 states reduce or restrict nurse practitioners’ abilities.
“Seventy-eight percent of [nurse practitioners] in the U.S. — 204,000 out of 262,000 — practice primary care, compared to 33 percent of physicians,” stated the report.
Two of the states where residents are most likely to live in counties with primary care doctor shortages, Alaska and Nevada, give nurse practitioners full practice privileges. (RELATED: Scientists Want You To Know That 98.6 Degrees Is Not Really ‘Normal’ Body Temperature)
The 12 states that limit nurse practitioners the most are:
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
Both South Carolina and Maryland eased restrictions on nurse practitioners in 2018, according to Campaign for Action.
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