Consumers show willingness to embrace expanded nurse role

Consumers are open to physician assistants and nurse practitioners playing a greater role in healthcare delivery, according to a Health Affairs study.

Researchers looked at data from the December 2011 - January 2012 round of the Association of American Medical Colleges' Consumer Survey and found roughly half of the respondents (50.3 percent) preferred to have a physician when finding a new primary care provider.

Showing encouraging results, more than one-fifth (22.8 percent) opted for a physician assistant (PA) or nurse practitioner (NP) while a quarter (25.9 percent) had no preference. "This finding suggests some potential for even more growth in the role that physician assistants and nurse practitioners play in providing primary care," the study states.

And when presented with scenarios in which patients could see a PA or a NP sooner than a physician, most opted to see another provider sooner rather than a physician later. In addition to the ability to be seen faster, other reasons for preferring a PA or NP involved their greater accessibility and their lower cost, the study noted.

The findings also suggest that previous exposure to PAs and NPs is associated with an increased willingness to be seen by them. Most respondents knew what a PA or NP was or had received treatment by one of those clinicians (82.5 percent and 81.4 percent, respectively).

Consumers who were younger, nonwhite and lower income were most likely to have seen a PA or NP or to show an affinity for them when asked about selecting a new provider.

While more consumers may be willing to see PAs and NPs for treatment, physicians and nurses are still at odds over expanding nurses' role in care, according to research last month in the New England Journal of Medicine.

To learn more:
- here's the Health Affairs study (.pdf)