Study: Care from non-physician clinicians equal to that of physicians in community health centers

Care delivered by nurse practitioners and physician assistants in community health centers is comparable to care given by physicians, suggests findings from a recent study published in the journal Medical Care.

The role of community health centers — which rely heavily on non-physician clinicians — in the modern healthcare landscape is expanding. Many uninsured, immigrant and minority populations rely on these facilities for their care.

To compare the quality of care delivered by non-physician clinicians and primary care physicians at these centers, researchers analyzed data collected from 2006 to 2010 in the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. Researchers assessed nine care outcomes by provider type. The care outcomes consisted of three quality indicators, four measures of services utilization and two measures of referral pattern. The nine quality measures included smoking cessation counseling, depression treatment, health education counseling, physical exams, imaging services and scheduling a return visit at a specific time.

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For seven of the nine measures, researchers identified no statistically significant difference between the provider types. However, patients seeing nurse practitioners were more likely to receive smoking cessation and health education counseling than patients seeing primary care physicians. Also, physician assistants delivered more health education counseling to patients than primary care physicians.

"Findings from our study should be reassuring to patients who rely on community health centers for their care," said Ellen Kurtzman, PhD, associate professor in the school of nursing at George Washington University in the District of Columbia and lead author of the paper. "We found that care is likely to be comparable regardless of whether patients are seen by a nurse practitioner, physician assistant or physician."

More articles on quality:
Detroit institutions to launch $9M study on African American cancer survivors 
How the ACA affected access to primary care: 5 things to know 
Exercise test inaccurately identifies open heart surgery candidates, study

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