More than 18,000 nurse practitioners (NPs) from across California will commemorate National Nurse Practitioner Week November 9-15, celebrating accomplishments within the profession and promoting the importance of NPs in our rapidly-evolving health care delivery system.
Individual chapters of the California Association for Nurse Practitioners (CANP) will conduct local celebrations during NP Week. Throughout the week, participants will be wearing blue ribbons to promote NP awareness and utilizing the occasion to highlight the vital role that NPs play in providing high quality, cost-effective, comprehensive, patient-centered care to individuals, families and communities statewide.
It’s an especially critical message given the millions of newly-insured Californians who have entered the state’s health care system through implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and who now must seek primary care services amidst an alarming shortage of physicians providing such care.
States across the nation have taken steps to alleviate the crisis by granting “full practice authority” to nurse practitioners, many of whom specialize in providing primary care. To date, 20 states have adopted such regulations, permitting NPs to practice to the full extent of their education, experience and expertise.
Conversely, California is among 12 states that still restrict NP practices, requiring supervision, delegation and management by a physician in order for an NP to provide patient care. These outdated barriers put California far behind other states in recognizing the critical role that NPs play in supplementing the care provided by physicians.
The reluctance on the part of many states to follow the national trend toward full practice authority stems in part from a simple lack of understanding about what a nurse practitioner really is. NPs are licensed, expert clinicians with advanced education (most have master’s and many have doctorate degrees) and extensive clinical preparation who provide primary, acute and specialty health care services. In addition to providing a full range of services, NPs work as partners with their patients, guiding them to make educated health care decisions and healthy lifestyle choices.
Numerous studies by leading health care authorities have concluded that patients would likely see no discernible difference in the level of care provided by nurse practitioners when compared to physicians. Both the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing recommend that nurse practitioners be allowed to work to the full level of their education and training to provide the necessary care for our population. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that, if nurse practitioners are allowed to do so, they provide quality of care and health outcomes on an equal footing with physicians, while a study by the RAND Corporation touted expanding the role of NPs as a means to alleviate the shortage of primary care providers.
Additionally, a report by the Bay Area Council concluded that granting full practice authority to California NPs would save nearly $2 billion in healthcare costs while significantly increasing access to quality care, especially for residents of rural and other underserved areas of the state.
Furthermore, full practice authority does not result in nurse practitioners being set loose to practice whole new aspects of medicine beyond their expertise – it simply permits them to do what they are educated and trained to do.
Legislative efforts to implement full practice authority for California NPs in 2013 fell just short of reaching the Governor’s desk, with Senate Bill 491 by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) passing out of the full Senate but being held in the Assembly. As efforts gear up to revisit the issue in 2015, it is critical that lawmakers, regulatory decision makers and the public in general understand that nurse practitioners are informed, in touch and involved, making them the health care providers of choice for millions and a solution to the primary care crisis in California.