Nurse practitioners are expanding access, improving outcomes

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Allison Vigil

Have you noticed that nurse practitioners and physician assistants are becoming more and more prevalent in local primary care practices?

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there's a scarcity of primary care physicians in the United States. This shortage is especially critical here in the Lowcountry, where we've experienced rapid population growth in the past several years.

Recognizing the increasing need for access to medical providers, more and more practices are turning to advanced practice providers - which includes both nurse practitioners (like me) and physician assistants - to fill the gulf between the demand for health care and the supply of doctors.

As our profession has become more visible, I am finding that patients are increasingly curious about our training, our role in urgent, primary and even specialty care settings, and the services we are able to provide.

First, both nurse practitioners and physician assistants receive advanced training to perform a wide range of preventive and acute medical services, and are required to pass a rigorous medical exam to be licensed.

Our scope of practice allows us to diagnose and treat common health problems, order and interpret imaging tests and lab work, prescribe medication, and manage chronic health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma.

While under the supervision of a doctor, we usually have our own panel of patients, and always have the option to consult or refer complex cases to our supervising physician or a specialist. This creates an excellent team approach to improving access to health care for our community.

In fact, last year the South Carolina state legislature passed a bill, authored by our own S.C. Sen. Tom Davis, allowing nurse practitioners to provide additional services within our communities.

"In order to truly improve access to health care, there must be an increase in the supply of providers," Davis told his colleagues in the legislature. "These nurses hold at least a Master's Degree in nursing, supplemented with advanced education and clinical training to autonomously assess, diagnose and manage a patient's health care at the primary care level."

He also pointed to studies that show the quality, efficiency, patient satisfaction and cost-effectiveness of advanced practice nurses' care is often similar to the care provided by doctors. The same can be said of my physician assistant colleagues.

Additionally, those in need of care can often get in to see a PA or NP quickly - and having us available to treat routine issues allows the doctors more time to focus on complex cases.

All this translates to better service and outcomes for our patients.

This month we celebrate National Nurse Practitioner Week to bring recognition to the part we play in today's health care system. Working as part of a team of providers, we are here to help provide our community with the care it needs when and where it is needed.

Allison Vigil is a board-certified family nurse practitioner at Beaufort Memorial Express Care and Occupational Health in Bluffton and Beaufort. Prior to completing her advanced training, Vigil worked as an emergency room nurse

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