Healthcare Technology Featured Article

May 06, 2024

The Future of Healthcare: The Evolving Role of Nurse Practitioners

The role of nurse practitioner dates back to the 1960s, when they emerged to support overworked doctors by serving as an additional option for primary healthcare. Since then, NPs have become a critical element of the healthcare infrastructure, particularly in underserved markets where there may not be enough specialists to meet the needs of a given population. A nurse practitioner is a highly educated role, requiring at least a Master’s degree, and NPs may specialize in a given field, such as psychiatry, gerontology, or pediatrics.

NP jobs are on the rise, as are the responsibilities given to these professionals and their essentiality to the healthcare industry. Today, we will examine how the role of nurse practitioner has evolved in recent years and how it may continue to do so in the future.

Nurse Practitioners Provide More Patient-Centered Care

One of the key ways that nurse practitioners add value to healthcare is that they are able to spend more time with patients and their families, providing vital education that improves outcomes. A doctor may be too busy to inform a patient about diabetes care, but an NP will be able to answer questions, direct the patient to resources, and ensure that they leave their appointment with everything they need to succeed when at home.

While research is unclear on whether this reduces hospitalizations, it does build trust between the patient and the healthcare system, which may prevent them from avoiding necessary care in the future. Having a warm and open relationship with a healthcare provider is a key factor in ensuring patient compliance with necessary healthcare procedures.

A Nurse Practitioner Ensures Continuity of Care

A nurse practitioner does not have the same role as a doctor; they can diagnose diseases and order tests or medication, but they are not qualified to perform more intensive procedures such as surgeries. This allows them to serve as a liaison between the patient and their doctor, filling in the gaps between doctor’s appointments and ensuring that the patient’s needs are met regardless of the time.

This is especially crucial when it comes to pain management, which is closely tied to good healthcare outcomes. As they can order treatments, nurse practitioners can assess the needs of the patient and try minimally invasive options, such as TENS therapy or a trigger point injection (TPI) to release tight muscles, before suggesting surgeries or implants. Utilizing these options first may also reduce dependency on addictive medications like opioids.

With nurse practitioners available, patients do not have to wait in pain until their next doctor’s appointment, which allows them to enjoy a greater quality of life while reducing the need for more intensive procedures.

By Utilizing Nurse Practitioners, Hospital Systems Reduce Doctor Workloads

Prior to the proliferation of nurse practitioners in hospital systems, doctors were tasked with assisting every patient in their specialty, regardless of their condition. This meant that a doctor might come across a highly complex case with a patient in poor health, and then jump over to one who only needed a minor adjustment to their medication levels or an outpatient procedure. Due to the high stress levels, both patients may have received worse care than they would have had there been an intermediary professional available to halve the work.

As nurse practitioners can assist stable patients with more minor needs, doctors are not overwhelmed by managing these smaller cases. Instead, they can focus their attention on patients with more complex needs, such as comorbid diseases.

For example, a psychiatric nurse practitioner can manage the needs of patients who are stable and only need a prescription refill, while doctors can assist those in acute distress, finding the right combinations of medications that will help to stabilize them. When the patient is recovering, they can then be passed off to the nurse practitioner, who will monitor them and report back to the doctor if their condition seems to worsen.

This is beneficial for everyone involved. Doctors with a smaller caseload can spend more time on challenging cases, reducing hospital time and shortening the time to diagnosis. At the same time, patients seeing both doctors and NPs will receive better care, as there is more focus given to their specific needs.

The Importance of Nurse Practitioners Only Continues to Grow

It’s clear that nurse practitioners are a key part of the healthcare system, but their importance will only deepen in the coming years. The United States is facing a doctor shortage; it’s estimated that across all specialties, America will be short by 124,000 physicians by 2034. Part of the reason for this is the high barriers to achieving a medical doctorate, coupled with the burnout and inadequate support doctors face when they enter the profession. Additionally, becoming a fully-fledged doctor takes 8 years or more, depending on the specialty, meaning that they matriculate slowly and cannot meet surging demand.

In contrast, becoming a nurse practitioner takes, at minimum, 6 years: four years of an undergraduate program, then two years of a Master’s degree. It is far less expensive to take a graduate degree than a doctorate, but NPs can still provide essential care to patients, meaning that they fill the gap left by the doctor shortage.

More than that, nurse practitioner roles are in high demand, ensuring that anyone who pursues this degree is likely to secure fulfilling employment shortly after graduation. It is clear that NPs are the backbone of the healthcare profession and will only become more essential in years to come.

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