Retail health clinics and nurse practitioners could together dramatically lower the costs of US health care, according to a new study published in Health Affairs. Allowing nurse practitioners to work autonomously in retail clinics could amount to big savings:
It is estimated that retail clinics will account for about 10 percent of outpatient primary care visits in 2015. If NPs do not have any practice independence, the cost savings in that year from retail clinic use would be an estimated $2.2 billion. Note that this figure is consistent with another economic analysis that estimated that national cost savings from retail clinics could be $1.8 billion in 2014. According to our calculations, savings would be $810 million greater if all states allowed NPs to practice independently and $472 million greater if NPs could both practice and prescribe independently.
Those who argue against granting more powers and discretion to nurse practitioners usually claim that quality or safety of care would decline if we did so. But this study confirmed earlier findings that quality of care by nurse practitioners is roughly the same as the quality provided by physicians. With every new study like this that’s published, there’s less and less reason for state legislatures to block bills expanding the scope of practice for nurse practitioners.As America runs out of doctors, a more autonomous corps of nurse practitioners could lower costs and ensure that the elderly, the newly insured, and those with chronic conditions get the care they need.[Photo of stethoscope and money courtesy of Shutterstock]