Primary care today faces many different types of challenges, from rising costs to access barriers. Integrating family nurse practitioners (FNPs) into primary care is one response to these challenges, and this is a trend that’s growing. Taking this approach has both direct and indirect economic benefits to the healthcare system, while also having the major benefit of improving patient outcomes.
The role of FNPs in primary care
Before looking at the economics, let’s first look at what exactly FNPs do in primary care. Essentially, these nurses have advanced training, which allows them to provide a wide range of primary care services. They undergo extremely rigorous preparation in both clinical and academic settings, but their education generally focuses more on disease prevention, health promotion and patient education.
FNPs are able to diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications and treatments and order diagnostic tests such as X-rays and blood work. They can even perform certain procedures. This wide scope means that they can step in and play the role of a primary care physician when one isn’t available. In many states, they are granted complete autonomy, while in others, they are required to work under the supervision of a physician.
This is especially important as primary care physicians are in short supply. In fact, back in 2019, the Association of American Medical Colleges projected that the shortage could reach as high a number as 55,000 by 2032. FNPs are ideally positioned to step in and help ease this burden.
FNPs are capable of advancing into leadership roles as well. Once they’ve obtained their second degree MSN, a qualified FNP will have plenty of choices. Students can complete an online Family Nurse Practitioner Post-Master’s Certificate through a range of reputable institutions, including Rockhurst University. Students in Rockhurst University’s online FNP course are taught all about leadership, policy and systems, as well as advanced nursing concepts. This wide scope can lead to a well-rounded, fulfilling FNP career.
The first area where there is a direct economic impact of hiring FNPs over primary care physicians is an obvious one: salaries. When comparing salaries, FNPs often earn less than primary care physicians. This salary differential can result in huge cost savings for clinics that employ FNPs as a part of their primary care team.
In terms of an indirect impact, we can look at insurance and reimbursement rates. Billing rates for FNP services are typically at a lower rate in comparison to physician services. This is another potential source of savings for healthcare providers.
The concept of value-based models of care is worth considering too. This is a system where providers are rewarded based on patient health outcomes rather than service volume. This type of system aligns perfectly with the values and preventative approach often taken by FNPs. By focusing on wellness promotion and disease prevention, FNPs have the perfect skill set to achieve positive outcomes under these models.
Improved patient outcomes through FNP care
Another thing to consider is the benefits to patient outcomes through the work of FNPs. When you look at things like hospital readmission rates and chronic disease management, the results between primary care physician-led care and FNP-led care are comparable. This is a compelling reason for healthcare institutions to back FNPs.
Another area where FNPs stand out is in the realm of ongoing patient engagement and education. Given their background and education, they can provide comprehensive explanations about medical conditions, treatments and medication usage. They can recommend lifestyle modifications as well, which helps patients completely understand their health situation.
This same background and diversity of knowledge helps FNPs when they’re dealing with diverse populations too. The care they provide is culturally competent, and beyond just individual patient outcomes, FNPs contribute significantly to overall community health outcomes.
Long-term savings in healthcare
If we focus on the long-term savings of incorporating FNPs into primary care roles, the first thing that stands out is in the hospital setting. FNPs excel at managing non-urgent conditions and providing assistance to patients to manage their health on an ongoing basis. The result of this type of treatment is fewer emergency room visits, as well as fewer patients needing to be readmitted after they’ve been discharged. The long-term savings from these two areas alone are significant.
The management of chronic diseases also becomes more cost-effective with FNPs at the helm of patient care. By their nature, chronic illnesses require consistent monitoring, and treatments need to be adjusted. These are tasks well-suited for someone with an FNP skillset. By keeping these ongoing conditions under control, potentially costly complications and interventions are avoided. This all has downstream effects on the cost of healthcare.
The long-term benefits extend to the efficiency of the healthcare workforce too. Instead of physicians having to shoulder workloads that are very hard to keep up with, FNPs can alleviate that pressure. The end result is less burnout, more productive doctors and reduced hospital turnover costs associated with having to constantly hire new people and train them.
Problems facing FNPs
An area on the negative side that needs to be considered involves the laws and regulations around FNPs. In many jurisdictions in the US, FNPs have a lot of restrictions around what they can and can’t do. Sometimes, these restrictions mean that they cannot completely step into the role of a primary care physician. This is likely to change in the long term, but it still must be considered if your clinic is in one of those jurisdictions today.
Another similar consideration has to do with attitudes towards FNPs. Some medical professionals don’t view FNPs as being on the same level as primary care physicians due to their differing backgrounds, and therefore, don’t think that they can take on a primary care role. The evidence would suggest this is completely wrong, but the belief persists among some segments of the medical profession. Work will need to be done in this area if we are to fully realize the economic potential of FNPs.
The financial impact of FNPs in primary care is clear. Their integration not only improves patient outcomes, but also proves cost-effective, resulting in long-term healthcare savings. Work still needs to be done in the regulation space to give FNPs the freedom to do their jobs well, but the future looks bright.