by Ashley Bender
The United States needs a solution to address the country’s need for basic care. More and more people will require effective and adequate primary healthcare options as the general population ages and millions of uninsured people enroll in the Affordable Care Act’s health exchanges. This means the current shortage of primary care doctors in the United States is likely to increase dramatically.
The solution is to expand the scope of nurse practitioners’ authority. Nurse practitioners are trained to diagnose and treat physical and mental conditions by taking medical histories, conducting physical exams, and interpreting diagnostic tests. They should have the legal authority to practice to the extent of their education and training. In order to provide cheaper, more accessible treatment options for millions of patients, states should allow nurse practitioners to treat patients directly, without physician oversight.
Only seventeen states and the District of Columbia allow nurse practitioners to treat patients without physician oversight. Physician advocacy groups, which seek to prevent other states from adopting similar laws, claim that the changes will harm patients and decrease quality of care. But not one state that allows nurse practitioners to treat patients without physician supervision has reported an increase in patient deaths.
On the contrary, the advantage of such expansion – that patients in those states have access to more affordable primary care – cannot be overstated. For example, only sixteen of California’s fifty-eight counties have enough physicians to meet the federal government’s recommendations for physician supply. The dearth of primary care physicians throughout the country leads to primary healthcare deserts: geographic pockets that are unable to attract medical professionals.