Arielle Levin Becker’s article, “Senate votes to allow nurse practitioners to practice independent of doctors” in the April 9 issue demonstrates how our health system is undergoing monumental changes, particularly in the way primary care is delivered.
Clearly, the primary care workforce is insufficient to meet the health care needs that are expected of it. This is clear and can be seen by the great number of patients who end up using the emergency rooms for their primary care problems. Or by being rushed through an office visit because their doctors’ schedules are overbooked and to make matters worse, they are too distracted by insurance regulations or making phone calls.
Not only is this a problem for patients who often complain that their doctors don’t have enough time to talk to them, but it sends a negative image to patients that their physicians are more interested in doing CAT scans and blood tests than they are in seeing them as people.
The point in this great debate that is not given the attention that it deserves is that there are many areas where advanced practice nurses can practice and alleviate the load on primary care doctors, many of whom are struggling to keep up with the many responsibilities heaped on them.
Advanced practice nurses can take some of the load off of the shoulders of primary care doctors and make it easier for patients to get care for many non-life-threatening diseases.
Sore throats, earaches and school physicals are just a few areas where advanced practice nurses are capable of working.
It seems that the nurses will get independent status. I do not share the fears that some physicians and lawmakers have about nurses having less training than the primary care doctors. As long as they work within the limits of their training and education as the Institute of Medicine announced, they should do fine.
Edward Volpintesta, M.D., has been a general practitioner in Bethel since 1975.