The healthcare landscape is still trying to find stable ground after dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the Association of American Colleges estimates there will be approximately 124,000 fewer physicians in the healthcare industry by 2034, widening a gap that can’t afford to get any bigger.
With so many hospitals and healthcare offices needing extra support to care for the patient population, there is a unique opportunity for current staff to become advanced practice providers and further their careers. Here’s what you need to know about this growing field and how you can directly make a difference by becoming one.
The Different Types of Advanced Practice Providers
Advanced practice providers are an essential part of the healthcare system. Due to their specialized training and credentials, they can collaborate and help manage much of a patient’s condition. This helps relieve the burden on physicians while improving patient experience and quality of care at the same time.
Two of the most commonly known advanced practice providers are physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs). Educated at a master’s degree or post-master’s level, there are many subsets of advanced practice providers, too. For example, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, this can include:
- Clinical nurse specialist (CNS): Can diagnose and treat certain illnesses, in addition to disease management and educating patients on behaviors to lower disease risk.
- Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA): Can provide a full range of care for a patient’s anesthesiologists needs.
- Certified nurse-midwife (CNM): Offers gynecological care including childbirth, postpartum, and family planning. CNM’s can also treat male patients, specifically for sexually transmitted diseases from a female partner under their care.
When it comes to PAs, they can practice in many specialties and settings, including primary care. However, like a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO), PAs must bring not only their knowledge of patient care, but also communication skills, empathy, and focus on the patient to each case. The good news? By already being familiar of the healthcare setting and your desire to get involved in the industry in the first place – these interpersonal skills are already ingrained into your work. This helps foster a sense of trust between not only you and the patient, but you and the physicians working on a patient case together.
Advanced Practice Providers Help Make Healthcare Healthier
A review published by the found after examining 13 randomized controlled trials, advanced practice providers like NPs made a positive impact on both clinicians and patients. Among the improvements noted: less waiting time for patients, better management of chronic diseases, and cost-effectiveness. The review found that this applied across many fields of medicine, as care settings included primary care, a hospital cardiothoracic unit, outpatient clinics, and community-based care such as rehabilitation centers and nursing homes.
Another interesting find from the review? The collaboration of using more advanced practice providers as opposed to only physician-led teams led to lower mortality rates in intensive care units, dropping to 6.3% versus 11.6%
Another review published in Human Resources for Health had similar findings, particularly when using advanced practice providers in emergency and critical care settings to increase the accessibility to healthcare. Included in the review was a study published in Academic Emergency Medicine, stating that a larger percentage of patients who were managed by NPs received analgesic within 30 minutes of arriving to the ED compared to patients who were being seen by physicians. Reducing treatment time in the ED means faster turnover for beds while reducing the patient load burden on physicians who can focus on critical cases.
The same improved quality of care and standards apply to PAs as well. A comparison of NPs, PAs, and physicians published in Medical Care found that after analyzing five years of data and 30 million patient visits to community health centers no differences were noted in patient care between the three clinical credentials. It was noted, however, that patients seen by NPs and PAs received more health education such as smoking cessation resources and health counseling than those who were seen by a physician.
This means that not only was care considered comparable but in some cases, patients were better prepared to manage their condition and reduce behaviors that could lead to other health concerns down the road.
Pros of Being an Advanced Practice Provider
Becoming an advanced practice provider is a rewarding way to directly impact the healthcare industry, in particular with the crisis of a staffing shortage that is happening nationwide. This quicker care also tends to improve the patient experience, which reflects positively on the healthcare practice. Because advanced practice providers can handle much of the patient journey on their own and collaborate with a physician team when needed – this can expedite care for the patient and reduce wait times.
Plus, it’s an opportunity to help educate and provide resources to a patient population that may just be in manage mode when it comes to their condition. Rather than just putting a metaphorical Band-Aid (or in some cases even a literal one) on the problem, advanced practice providers can use their expertise to educate because the patient load is more leveled for the entire team. The result? A healthier community and lower return rate to hospitals, urgent care settings, and other healthcare clinics.
Challenges of Being an Advanced Practice Provider
While advanced practice providers are more widely used today, there may be some instances where they are underutilized in the office. This could be as simple as the scheduling staff isn’t sure what they can and cannot do for patients, so they don’t make any upcoming appointments with them. That’s why for physicians and managers it’s so important to educate the entire staff on advanced practice providers, highlighting their skill sets and what they are expected to do. This can eliminate confusion and make sure that advanced practice providers are helping ease the healthcare burden.
In some situations, advanced practice providers and physicians may have difficulty communicating and collaborating. Again, setting clear expectations and guidelines with all parties ahead of time can help make sure the transition from an individual-led setting to a team one for patient care is as smooth as possible. No one enjoys taking the time for orientation or going over best practices, but when the result is less work for all and better patient and employee outcomes, it’s well worth it.