Feb. 28, 2013
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Amid concerns about primary care provider shortages, especially in light of health reform coverage expansions in 2014, some believe that revising state laws governing nurse practitioners’ scope of practice is a way to increase primary care capacity. NPs are registered nurses trained at the graduate level, with a specialization in primary care, acute care or psychiatric/mental health nursing, sometimes with a focus on pediatrics, adult/gerontology or women’s health.
According to the study, state scope-of-practice laws vary widely in the level of physician oversight required for nurse practitioners, with some states allowing NPs to practice independently, and others limiting NPs’ authority to diagnose, treat and prescribe medications to patients without supervision.
The study, which included interviews with NPs and practice managers and physicians working in settings that employ NPs, examined variations in NP scope-of-practice laws in six statesArkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts and Michigan, which represent a range of restrictiveness. For example, Arizona allows NPs to practice independently, while Arkansas requires direct physician supervision of NP diagnoses, treatment and prescribing.
States with more restrictive scope-of-practice laws were associated with more challenging environments for NPs to bill public and private payers, order certain tests, and establish independent primary care practices, according to the study.
“Scope-of-practice laws in and of themselves don’t appear to limit what primary care services patients can receive from nurse practitioners, but requirements for documented physician supervision do appear to impact where and how NPs can practice,” said Tracy Yee, Ph.D., HSC researcher and coauthor of the study with Ellyn Boukus, M.A., an HSC health research analyst; Dori Cross, an HSC research assistant; and Divya Samuel, a former HSC research assistant.
The study’s findings are detailed in a new NIHCR Research BriefPrimary Care Workforce Shortages: Nurse Practitioner Scope-of-Practice Laws and Payment Policiesavailable online at www.nihcr.org/PCP-Workforce-NPs. Other key findings include:
The Center for Studying Health System Change is a nonpartisan policy research organization committed to providing objective and timely research on the nation's changing health system to help inform policy makers and contribute to better health care policy. HSC, based in Washington, D.C., is affiliated with Mathematica Policy Research.