Jun 26, 2012
Author: Otto Akkerman
Andre Picard’s article in today’s (June 26, 2012) Globe on Nurse Practitioners
highlights the role and benefit to the healthcare system an increased NP presence could provide. I tend to agree and hope the recent increase in the number of Nurse Practitioners is a trend that will continue.
The role of Nurse Practitioners and their potential to help address what’s ailing the healthcare system is a topic that’s surfaced on and off in the healthcare debate for decades. Supporters often cite benefits such as their lower remuneration in comparison to Family Physicians while detractors are quick to point out they can only do about 80% of what a family physician does (though I’ve never understood where that number originates). A lack of consistent agreement is likely why we still only have about 2,500 nurse practitioners in Canada despite the profession’s existence for over 50 years.
I think the time is absolutely right for Nurse Practitioners to step up and play a much bigger role in the delivery of primary care. Our ongoing research with family physicians consistently shows that the majority of consultations could easily be accommodated by nurse practitioners (this varies by doctor).
For example, many consultations relate to pain relief. Nurse practitioners, by virtue of their nurse-model training and experience which is more holistic and team-based, are likely better suited to develop individualized pain relief treatments that can incorporate drug and non-drug components. Similar approaches can be applied to other areas requiring a more holistic style to reach desired outcomes such as smoking cessation, diabetes management, and obesity to name a few.
This individualized approach to primary care is what an increasing number of Canadians (now over 60% based on our research) want and are starting to expect from their primary care clinicians. To be clear, Nurse Practitioners will not (and in my opinion should not) replace the family physician, but their inclusion in front line health delivery is likely necessary to make patient-centric care a reality.
In his article, Picard notes that the number of Nurse Practitioners has grown 25% in the past year. In absolute numbers, that’s about 500 new NPs. Let’s see what the future holds.