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Nurse Practitioners More Likely to Serve Rural Areas

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Receiving primary health care services can be an ordeal for some Oklahomans, particularly those living in rural areas of the state. As medical providers increasingly consolidate, rural residents find themselves driving farther for even basic health services.

A study from Montana State University indicates that allowing nurse practitioners to work to the full extent of their education and training could be a part of the solution.

The study, published in the January 2016 issue of Medical Care, the Journal of the American Public Health Association found that nurse practitioners are more likely than physicians to practice in rural areas.

Even more interesting, it found that rural residents’ access to health care differed from state to state depending on, among other things, a state’s scope-of-practice laws. 

“For the 17 states that did not restrict scope-of-practice laws governing nurse practitioners at the time of the study, 62 percent of the state’s population had high geographic accessibility to a primary care nurse practitioner,” said Peter Buerhaus, the study’s author. “In contrast, in the 21 states that fully restricted the practice of nurse practitioners, the percent of the population with high accessibility to a primary care clinician decreased considerably.”

Oklahoma ranks 49th in physician-to-patient ratio, so the demand for health care already exceeds the supply, and this problem becomes more apparent in rural areas of our state.

Nurse practitioners have a master’s degree or doctorate and are trained to provide many health care services, but outdated state laws create barriers to them starting new clinics. Oklahoma’s nurse practitioners are an under-utilized resource, and they could be doing more to care for Oklahomans. It’s time that Oklahomans enjoyed that same access to quality health care that can be found in 22 other states.

“The point is that we can do better in terms of patient accessibility to primary care,” Buerhaus said. “This is not a nurse practitioner versus physician issue. It’s an issue that is driven by the question of how do we best expand access to health care using all available resources?”

To read more about the Montana State University study, click here.

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