Although nurse practitioners have been providing health care services to patients for more than 40 years, the number of nurse practitioners in the United States – registered nurses who have completed additional specialized education – has more than doubled in the last decade, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. This development bodes well for the aging US population, especially with health care facilities finding creative and useful ways to put this new army of health care professionals to work. Below are just a few examples:
•University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center: Adding Nurse Practitioners to Medial Teams. The University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center began adding nurse practitioners to their hospital medical teams in 2000. The aim was to create more seamless care for patients. By adding a nurse practitioner, hospital staffs can provide more top level care, even at non-traditional hours, such as on weekends or in the few hours of the morning. The U of C Medical Center found the program reduced patient stays, reduced patient costs and improved communication among members of the medical teams–all without increasing patient mortality rates or readmission rates.
•Loyola University Health System: Nurse Practitioners in Cardiac Care. Loyola University Health System, located just outside of Chicago, tried something similar with its cardiac care unit. The health center, a leader in developing advanced cardiovascular devices and procedures, wanted its cardiac care center ranking to reflect its research excellence. To ramp up its level of care, the hospital decided to use nurse practitioners as primary after-surgery care providers instead of using residents as they had been doing. The nurse practitioners were also given as the primary contacts to patient families. The results were impressive. During the three years the program was being tested, patient mortality fell from 3 percent to .9 percent. In addition, patient costs decreased by an average of 10 percent.
•University of Michigan Medical Center: Using Nurse Practitioners for High-Utilizing Patients. In a recent study, the University of Michigan Medical Center used nurse practitioners in another way. The East Lansing, Michigan facility tested nurse practitioners on the patients with multiple, unexplained systems. In other words, the patient population that takes the most time and testing with sometimes, mixed results.
•Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Using Nurse Practitioners for Skin Cancer Screenings. New York City’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center tested nurse practitioners for skin cancer screenings, in 2001, with positive results. Instead of having staff dermatologists perform the initial patient screenings for potential skin cancer lesions, the center used five nurse practitioners. The results, when compared with the recommendations made by the dermatologists, showed that the NPs could be trained to be as accurate as the physicians in such functions.
Nurse practitioners clearly have a future in the American health care system. As more and more health care facilities take advantage of this new breed of health care professionals, look for them in a hospital near you.