Nurse Practitioners and the Cost of Primary Care

Nurse Practitioners

A few weeks ago, we published a blog post discussing the question of whether nurse practitioners would contribute the same financial volume to hospitals and hospital-owned medical groups by taking the place of doctors in providing primary care. It was a fascinating thing to research. Now, new data from the University of California, San Francisco suggests that the conclusions we reached in that blog post were fairly accurate.

According to the research, broadening the scope of practice for nurse practitioners has actually increased healthcare spending since 2008. The increase has been slight, but it is reasonable to expect spending to increase via the care provided by nurse practitioners as more and more states get on board with expanding their scope of practice.

More Access Equals Lower Costs

Researchers at the University of California looked at healthcare spending rates between 2008 and 2012 in states in which nurse practitioners have independent practice authority. They found that during that four-year span, the actual total costs of health care in those states rose slightly, but that the price of primary care went down commensurate with the number of NPs offering primary care services.

Patients in need of primary care were more than willing to see nurse practitioners on the assumption that their quality of care would be just as good and, at the same time, cost less. The overall result was higher healthcare spending and only a slight increase in overall costs.

Researchers also looked into the possibility that the cost of primary care to the patient would continue to go down as more nurse practitioners begin offering independent care. Their research seems to indicate that this would be the case. Researchers concluded that independent practice among nurse practitioners jobs nationwide could potentially lead to a significant price reduction for customers and better collaboration between NPs, doctors, and other healthcare professionals along the way.

Lower Costs Equals More Spending

Researchers did not implicitly draw a link between lower healthcare costs and higher healthcare spending, but their data suggests that the link exists. This is one of the fundamentals of free-market economics. When a product or service is more affordable, larger numbers of people take advantage of that product or service, thereby generating greater sales revenues. Primary care is no different.

Increasing the number of independently practicing NPs will undoubtedly bring the cost of primary care down for the consumer. In turn, that should lead more consumers who have never utilized primary care as a matter of course to begin doing so. More people spending less on primary care will cumulatively increase overall healthcare spending as a result.

In terms of revenue to hospitals, nurse practitioners can still be part of the equation by affiliating with local hospitals the same way physicians do. Patients that need certain tests and procedures can be referred to that affiliated hospital, thereby generating the same kind of revenues hospitals get from their doctors. Everybody wins without patient care suffering one bit.

It’s Time to Get on Board

With the research from the University of California in hand, there is yet another reason to push every state that does not yet recognize full practice authority for nurse practitioners to get on board. Every nurse practitioner capable of providing independent primary care is yet another medical professional who can meet the needs of patients in a timely, efficient, and cost-effective manner. If we truly want to transform healthcare for the better, we need to fully embrace the concept of the nurse practitioner as the go-to primary care provider in all 50 states.

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