Since the inception of the Affordable Care Act, over 4 million new patients are being served in community health centers across the U.S. While this new influx of patients presents challenges, it also challenges the medical community to think of innovative ways to serve these new patients. A focus on preventative, versus reactive, care is one of these major shifts. Now, early screening and guidance on healthy living are an integral tool for any healthcare professional as these measures help save lives, time, and money.

One of the healthcare professions that have preventative and comprehensive care baked directly into their mission statement are nurse practitioners. 

Because of this focus, as well as the shortened time of training, many researchers suggest that nurse practitioners, as well as physician assistants, will begin to take a larger role in healthcare under the Affordable Care Act. Nurse practitioners are licensed professionals who have completed a master’s or doctoral degree program and undergone advanced clinical training. Physician assistants work as part of a doctor’s team to perform exams and procedures and assist in surgeries.

Since this new influx of patients threatens the amount of doctors available for patient care, researchers at the RAND Corp. began to look at alternative strategies for managing healthcare. What they found was that nurse practitioners and physician assistants can provide many of the services needed in community health centers. In a study published in the journal Health Affairs, researchers noted that expanding the current use of these healthcare professionals “could help eliminate 50% or more of the primary care physician shortage” by 2025.

In this updated model, doctors would act as the lead for a team of healthcare professionals focused on comprehensive care. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants would follow up with patients, advise them on healthy lifestyles, or perform medical care in lower cost settings, such as clinics, health care centers, retail pharmacies, or doctor’s offices. This would leave hospitals and emergency rooms open to assist with higher-risk patients.

Nurse practitioners are becoming a popular alternative already–they currently receive over 600 million visits each year with high levels of patient satisfaction. 

The Obama Administration itself is leading many efforts on training and emphasizing nursing care. The Record on Supporting the Nursing Workforce states that, “The health care law–the Affordable Care Act–has given nurses and other health care professionals a historic opportunity to improve the health of millions of Americans. The nursing profession is positioned to contribute even more to both health and health care.”

You can read even more about the role of the nurse practitioner under the Affordable Care Act in an infographic from Nursing@Simmons, a nursing program. 

Image by Pete via Flickr

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