More NPs giving primary care in places underserved by physicians, study finds

More nurse practitioners are providing primary care in low-income and rural U.S. areas where the physician workforce is decreasing, according to a study published in JAMA.

The researchers looked at U.S. Census data, physician workforce data from the American Medical Association and Medicare billing records on physicians and nurses providing primary care.

Primary care physicians significantly outnumber NPs in the U.S., with almost 244,000 primary care physicians as of 2016 compared to about 123,000 NPs in primary care. In 2010, there were about 226,000 physicians and 59,000 NPs providing primary care.

But the primary care physician workforce is flatlining. From 2010 to 2016, the number of available physicians decreased by 0.02 for every 100,000 people in the U.S. population, while the number of working NPs increased by three for every 100,000 people.

In the study period, the average number of NPs in communities with the most low-income residents jumped from 19.8 to 41.1 for every 100,000 people, while the average number of physicians dipped from 52.9 to 52 for every 100,000 people.

During that same time, the average number of NPs serving rural communities increased from 25.2 to 41.3 for every 100,000 people, while the average number of physicians decreased from 59.5 to 47.8 for every 100,000 people.

"The growing NP supply in these areas is offsetting low physician supply and thus may increase primary care capacity in underserved communities," lead study author Ying Xue, RN, told Reuters.  

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