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Whatever care is quickest, patients choose, new study says

About half of U.S. consumers prefer physicians for primary health care, but patients are willing to see physician assistants and nurse practitioners to secure timely access to care, says a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

About 60 percent of study respondents preferred seeing a physician assistant or nurse practitioner to address a worsening cough if they could be seen the same day. Twenty-five percent preferred an extra day’s wait to see a physician, according to the study in the June edition of the journal Health Affairs.

Findings suggest that physician assistants and nurse practitioners may help address the growing gap between the supply of physicians and growing demand for primary care. The nation’s doctor shortage is expected to reach 90,000 by 2020, the association says.

The number of Americans over 65 — the segment of the population most in need of health care — is expected to double by 2060, according to 2012 statistics by the Census Bureau. The Affordable Care Act will increase demand for primary care providers by requiring millions of uninsured Americans to obtain health insurance beginning Jan. 1.

The study contradicts a 2012 survey by the American Medical Association that found patients overwhelmingly sought a coordinated approach to health care, in which a physician led the team. In that survey, three out of four patients said they prefer to be treated by a physician even if it takes longer to get an appointment and costs more.

“Health care professionals have long worked together to meet patient needs for a reason: A physician-led team approach to care works, and patients agree,” says AMA President-elect Ardis D. Hoven.

“There is no single solution to our problem,” says Darrell Kirch, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “We need to focus on building our capacity to train physicians while also embracing the roles in which other professionals can serve.”

Though patients may not be flocking to alternate forms of care, more physician assistants and nurse practitioners are working with doctors, according to a study in the May/June issue of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

About 60 percent of family physicians collaborate with physician assistants and nurse practitioners to care for patients, suggesting this team-based approach may “help alleviate patient access to health care issues,” study authors wrote.

Nurse practitioners can treat patients without physician involvement in 18 states and the District of Columbia, a number that could grow as states consider proposals for expansion, according to Health Affairs.

Gannett News Service



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