Nurse practitioners (NPs) are on the front lines with doctors and nurses combating the COVID-19 pandemic. They are being asked to shoulder a larger portion of the burden in relief of doctors who already have their hands full. As stressful as the pandemic is, it has given NPs a new opportunity to prove their worth.
NPs have been struggling for years to convince states to let them practice independently – at least in terms of providing primary care in private practices and retail clinics. Some states have welcomed their efforts while others have not. Now they have an opportunity to demonstrate how valuable NP jobs are to the healthcare equation. They have an opportunity to demonstrate they are fully qualified and more than capable of practicing without extra supervision.
Relaxed Rules in Missouri
Missouri is one example of a state being forced to give NPs wider latitude in order to fight COVID-19. According to The Southeastern Missourian, state regulators have relaxed the restrictions on NPs through at least the end of April. It is expected that the relaxed restrictions will remain in place as long as Missouri is in a state of emergency.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) passed a temporary rule that reduces the amount of time it takes to be approved as an NP in order to work as a crisis response nurse. That rule is complemented by an executive order that temporarily waives the requirement for nurse practitioners to work within 75 miles of a supervising physician.
Both actions combined are intended to make more care available to those in need. The governor’s office and the DHSS share the desire to ensure that people presenting with COVID-19 symptoms have immediate access to primary care.
In a third move, Missouri regulators have also temporarily waived the requirement for a collaborating physician to review at least 10% of the cases handled by NPs. Whether or not that translates into any tangible changes remains to be seen. The collaboration requirement is limited to reviewing patient charts, which some physicians may find doable even while dealing with the pandemic.
If They Perform Well Now…
Now is not the time to discuss the politics of the disagreement between NPs and physicians. But that time is going to come. And when it does, the debate will be centered around a single question: if NPs perform well during significant medical crises, why would state regulators expect any different under normal circumstances?
The chief argument against allowing NPs to practice without physician supervision is one of experience. Nurse practitioners undergo similar educational regimens as general practitioners. They possess the same body of knowledge. Where they differ is time and experience. GPs have more of it by default.
Physicians opposed to loosening the restrictions on NPs claim that their counterparts are not qualified to provide unsupervised primary care. NPs say otherwise. Now they have an opportunity to prove their point. A lot of people suspect they will do just that.
Time for States to Change
Just looking at the sheer number of NP jobs available at Health Jobs Nationwide is proof of how valuable nurse practitioners are to the healthcare sector. They are proving their worth in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Now would be a great time for states to consider changing how they view NP jobs.
NPs have an excellent opportunity right now to showcase their skills and abilities. Here’s hoping they convince the majority of holdout states to make their emergency rule changes permanent. The industry needs more capable NPs delivering primary care independently.