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Embrace the growth of nurse practitioners to improve care

Primary care is the foundation of successful health care. It improves health outcomes and quality of life while increasing efficiency and lowering overall costs. The primary care workforce is changing rapidly, with more and more Pennsylvanians receiving primary care services from nurse practitioners (NPs). This is especially true in southwestern Pennsylvania.

In 2015, the Joint State Government Commission warned that Pennsylvania faced a looming shortage of primary care physicians (PCPs). In a new report, the Pennsylvania Coalition of Nurse Practitioners analyzed data in order to determine the current status of the shortage, with some concerning findings: Allegheny County lost 40 primary care physicians, the most of any Pennsylvania County despite the care needs of its aging population. Twelve PCPs left practice in Fayette County, representing nearly one in five of the county’s total in 2015. Westmoreland County lost 3%.

In contrast, and fortunately for patients, NP care has expanded. The NP workforce grew by 22% statewide, and NP care expanded in 57 of 67 Pennsylvania counties. Patients across southwest Pennsylvania benefited from the significant growth in NP care. The number increased by 22% in Allegheny County, a total of 224 new nurse practitioners serving here. The number of NPs increased by 40% in Butler, 30% in Fayette, 24% in Washington, 17% in Westmoreland.

Almost every major health care stakeholder group in Pennsylvania has endorsed legislation — H.B. 100 and S.B. 25 — to adopt a modern process for NP licensure called Full Practice Authority that allows NPs to practice to the full scope of their education and national certification. Twenty-two states have already adopted this reform; their health care quality improved, access increased and costs decreased.

Policymakers should embrace the growth of the NP profession as an opportunity to improve care for everyone. Pennsylvania patients deserve to benefit from this proven success.