While the COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as one of the worst health crises in history, it brought out the best in human innovation, adaption, and compassion. It pushed healthcare leaders and practitioners personally, professionally, and within their organizations into a space of uncertainty that most have never experienced before.
Those who adjusted to and engaged with the new needs of their organization were the architects of innovations in patient care delivery. One of the most compelling instances of this is the use of Advanced Practice Providers (APPs) in new roles and to the fullest of their practice authority to meet the needs of patient care.They have played a vital role in rising to the challenge of providing care – and have opened the minds of healthcare leaders to the significant benefits in leveraging Physician Assistants (PAs), Nurse Practitioners (NPs)/Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) in broader ways to drive the future of healthcare delivery.
Full Practice Authority: APPs Rise to the Top.
The COVID-19 pandemic required most healthcare organizations to maximize the number of frontline providers able to care for patients during surges. More than three-quarters (78.6%) of organizations redeployed or planned to redeploy APPs to frontline specialties as a result of clinical staffing shortages in critical departments.
Expanded Roles for APPs.
APPs demonstrated their versatility and contributions to patient care in a variety of ways during the pandemic crisis, with many institutions now poised to leverage them in broader ways. Lessons learned from the pandemic response of the APP workforce will shape the future of APPs’ reskilling and scope of practice.
Helping Solve the Primary Care Physician (PCP) Shortage.
APPs comprise roughly 30% of the U.S. healthcare workforce and constitute more than one-third of healthcare organizations’ clinical workforce. In March 2020, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reported that the number of NPs reached an all-time high of 290,000 and they expect that number to continue to rise, making APPs a valuable solution to large scale provider resource issues. One of the most pressing of these issues is a lack of primary care providers.
While there was an estimated shortage of 20,400 primary care physicians in 2020, the supply of NPs and PAs grew by 30% and 58% respectively, outstripping a 17% increase in combined demand, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Rural Areas May Benefit Most from Expanded APP Use.
While there are 20 percent of Americans living in rural areas today, only 10 percent of the country’s physicians work there. That translates to a ratio of one physician for every 2,500 patients. In fact, there were approximately 7,214 designated Healthcare Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) nationwide, with 15,007 practitioners needed to assuage these shortages.
By the Numbers: Supply and Demand of APPs.
Simply stated, demand is outstripping current and projected physician capacity. The supply of NPs and PAs is growing at a more rapid rate than physicians, as the training cycle is shorter. According to the AAMC, the increasing integration of APPs in the care delivery mix will result in the ratio of physicians to APPs falling over time as the APP supplies grow at faster rates than physician supply – suggesting the physician-to-PA ratio will fall from 7:2:1 in 2015 to 3:5:1 in 2030.
Temporary Changes Lead to Permanent Solutions.
There are many ways the pandemic has permanently upended the U.S. healthcare industry. Many experts are now predicting that hospitals and other facilities will continue to allow non-physicians, such as NPs and PAs to fill a bigger role in patient care long after the pandemic ends.
As healthcare entities reevaluate budgets, leaders will be rethinking their costs, desired outcomes, and capabilities of their staff. A clear understanding of each role, including what it means to work to one’s full scope of practice, making necessary changes to staffing models, and innovative utilization of human capital are vital elements in pandemic reevaluation and navigating a path forward.
To learn more how the role of APPs is changing and to assist in staff planning as organizations recovery and rebuild, download our proprietary white paper, COVID-Tested: A New Era for Advanced Practitioners.