Though that may not be news to some of us, this New York Times article shares the results of a Journal of the American Geriatrics Society study, which reports “nurse practitioners can markedly improve the quality of care for older patients.”
As Paula Span says, the senior care provider shortage is old news. Yet for the many seniors and caregivers who make regular trips to the doctor’s office, it’s good to know that waiting the extra minutes for the doctor — who often only has a few minutes to spend with patients anyway — isn’t necessary in order to get the best care.
According to the article, the study’s researchers examined the top four conditions most seniors are treated for when seeking professional medical care — conditions that often lead to senior living placements if adequate care and services are not provided at home or in the community: depression, dementia, falls and urinary incontinence.
The numbers favoring a nurse practitioner (NP) as part of the care team are impressive: “Patients who saw a nurse practitioner along with a doctor received 80 percent of the recommended assessments and treatments for falls (compared with 34 percent for those who only saw a doctor), 59 percent for dementia (versus 38 percent) and 66 percent for incontinence (versus a particularly dismal 19 percent).”
Great news, right?
Unfortunately, as is the case with many issues in our current health care system, culture change is required for a shift that would pair NPs with primary care physicians, which, the article states, will not come quickly or easily because of differing opinions on the role of each — no matter how great the need and how obvious the benefits.
Even still, I believe that education is at the beginning of every culture change, and if more caregivers and seniors are made aware of the valuable resource that is a nurse practitioner, perhaps more people will request their presence in the doctor’s office, or even seek out their services instead of the doctor’s. That being said, the goal here is not for NPs to win out over doctors. We need them both. This is not about doctor bashing either, as many of them do a terrific job of caring for their older patients (even if geriatrics is not their specialty). However, patients and their families often feel a sense of loyalty to a certain doctor that they’ve seen for decades, regardless of whether the doctor has the best skill set or knowledge base to deal with their new care needs. I saw this first-hand when we cared for my grandfather while he lived with Alzheimer’s, though in our particular situation, a family member wanted my grandfather to see a different doctor because he didn’t like the treatment or diagnosis given by the longstanding doctor.
Ultimately, finding a care provider you trust, and someone who can care for you through all the stages of life, is a very complicated thing. But if we can decrease our reliance on doctors just a bit, to take them off the pedestal and stop viewing their professional medical opinion as the final or only say, I think it’s a step in the right direction. I also think encouraging physicians to collaborate and partner with other care professionals like NPs, who clearly have something valuable to offer, is another positive move forward. If it means better care, why not?