Nurse Practitioners in Texas Will Help with the Primary Care Shortage

The new law takes effect in November.

It allows nurse practitioners, who have advanced training and a master's degree, to take on more primary-care responsibilities, things like treating common colds and infections.

Nurse practitioners will still work under the supervision of a doctor, but the doctor doesn't need to be physically in the same building.

The law also gives nurse practitioners and physician assistants more authority to write prescriptions for patients.

Dr. Charu Sawhney is an internist at the Hope Clinic, which provides primary care to uninsured people in the Asian-American communities of southwest Houston.

"The obvious benefit to having nurse practitioner mid-level providers is to reduce the shortage in primary care specialties."

The proportion of medical students who choose to go into primary care has dropped by more than half in recent years.

Nurse practitioners can help fill in the gap, according to a new study from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

The study found that in states that allow nurse practitioners more freedom to work independently, the nurse practitioners were providing more primary care.

That could be the future in Texas, too.

The new law allows a doctor to supervise up to seven nurse practitioners at a time, up from four.

Rural clinics and other underserved neighborhoods could especially benefit.

Dr. Sawhney says the leaders of the Hope Clinic are discussing whether to add more nurse practitioners to their staff. 

The clinic sees mostly uninsured patients and also a lot of refugees:

"A lot of these patients have not received care in several years. So their care is complicated or their conditions are complicated because of the lack of care. And also the refugee patients come with a whole new scope of diseases and conditions that we're not used to seeing in the United States. So that adds another challenge."

Given those challenges, it's sometimes best to have a doctor there, Sahney says.

"The issue has been for these uninsured patients, we need to provide the maximum amount of care at that one visit because we don't know if that patient has the resources to return."

But overall, Sawhney supports the new law for the state of Texas, which has the highest rate of uninsured patients in the country.

Under Obamacare, more of those Texans will eventually get insurance and will need to find a primary-care provider they can rely on in the long term. 

 

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