Report: NPs, PAs won't solve primary care shortage

The industry still needs policies to solve the primary care shortage since more nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) are choosing subspecialty careers, according to new research from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

The authors looked at data from the National Provider Identifier and concluded less than half of PAs and a little more than half of NPs practice primary care. Of the roughly 106,000 PAs, only 43.2 percent work in primary care while 52.4 percent of about 55,000 NPs deliver primary care services.

The researchers attribute student debt and income inequalities with prompting NPs and PAs, like their physician counterparts, to choose subspecialty practices over primary care. However, they note strategies, such as training in rural and underserved regions and student debt reduction, could get more NPs and PAs to enter primary care.

"Relying on NPs and PAs to solve the problem of a growing shortage of primary care physicians may not be an option, and policy makers should not abandon policy solutions designed to increase the number of primary care physicians, NPs, and PAs," the authors wrote.

With the primary care workforce in jeopardy due to decreased interest in the specialty, the AAFP called on Congress to pay primary care physicians more, FierceHealthcare previously reported. In a February report to the Senate subcommittee on health, the AAFP recommended policies allow primary care physicians to earn at least 70 percent of the median income of other specialties, up from the current 50 percent.

But politicians and health policy experts are still looking to NPs and PAs to close the primary care gap and meet the growing demand for care, MedPage Today reported.

For instance, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) last month awarded $12 million in healthcare reform funds to train more than 300 primary care residents at 32 teaching health centers during the 2013-2014 academic year.

For more:
- here's the AAFP research
- read the MedPage article