Think it takes a long time to get an appointment with a primary care provider now? Brace yourself: it will likely only get worse. We’re facing a severe shortage of primary care physicians in the nation. The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortfall of 29,800 primary care physicians by 2015, and 65,800 by 2025, mainly because of the anticipated increase in demand for services from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), deterrents to entering the field, such as relatively lower incomes, and growth in the general population and specifically growth in the elderly population. Should the ACA pass muster with the Supreme Court next month, an additional 30 to 33 million previously uninsured Americans will be covered — and even if ACA is not implemented in full, and in the end merely expands Medicaid, it will add 17 million to the insured ranks by 2020.
One of the best ways to alleviate this shortage is to expand the scope of practice for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), well-trained registered nurses with specialized qualifications who can make diagnoses, order tests and referrals, and write prescriptions. APRNs could provide a variety of services that primary care physicians now provide.