Substituting independent nurse practitioners for doctors is not the answer to a nationwide physician shortage, according to Primary Care for the 21st Century
, a new report from the American Academy of Family Physicians, but nurses and other healthcare professionals playing appropriate roles in team-based care can "fill the primary-care gap."
Noting that he recognized that "physician shortages are a reality," Dr. Roland Goertz, the AAFP's board chairman, said at a news conference that allowing nurse practitioners to practice independently would create two classes of care: one led by physicians and another led by "less qualified" individuals.
"Every American should have a primary-care doctor," Goertz said.
The report notes that nurse practitioners are required to complete 5½ to seven years of education and training, including undergraduate schooling, to practice, whereas family physicians receive 11 years of education and training—four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school and three years of residency training.
A 4-to-1 ratio of nurse practitioners to doctors is ideal for a physician-led, patient-centered medical-home team, according to studies cited in the report.
To meet healthcare needs, the AAFP advocates for increased primary-care education support, more programs to help medical students pay back or defray medical school debt, and better pay for primary-care physicians so more students will choose a primary-care career.
"There is an answer to the problem, and that answer is team-based care," Goertz said.