Nurse practitioners could help solve primary care shortage

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Thousands of residents in Tracy have poor access to care because the county has a shortage of providers in primary care as well as mental health, according to the 2019 San Joaquin County Community Health Needs Assessment. The effects of poor access to care can increase suicide rates, increase hospitalizations, increase preventable diseases and increase the cost of health care spending.

What’s a solution to poor access to care? One of the solutions to this problem is to give nurse practitioners full rights authority, which is what Assembly Bill 890 hopes to accomplish. Full rights authority for nurse practitioners has been proven to increase access to care and decrease costs of health care, and care provided by family nurse practitioners is comparable to primary care given by physicians.

What is a nurse practitioner? A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has advanced their education to the master’s or doctorate level in a specific field, such as mental health, acute care, family practice, geriatric care, pediatric care, women’s health and many more. Nurse practitioners are nationally board certified for entry-level practice for their specialty. Nurse practitioners who provide care to patients are educated and trained to order as well as interpret diagnostic testing, diagnose and treat conditions, prescribe medications, collaborate with the health care team, and manage patients.

Nurse practitioners in California require physicians to oversee them and follow algorithms called standardized procedure to practice. However, 21 states and U.S. territories have already adopted full practice authority laws for nurse practitioners. Studies have shown that states with full practice authority have an increased ability to retain their nurse practitioners and attract many more.

I’m frustrated to witness patients going to the emergency department for common and preventable issues that could have been treated at primary care clinics. From my experience in the hospital, people come to the emergency department with these common issues due to the lack of primary care access. Allowing family nurse practitioners who are trained in primary care to practice to their full potential will help increase access to primary care; this will decrease emergency department visits as well as the costs associated with them.

With an expanding aging population as well as the recent health care reform, a burden has been placed on primary care providers. Also, the current situation of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic has highlighted the lack of efficiency and accessibility of the current health care system. Due to the need for more practitioners, the state of New York has temporarily allowed nurse practitioners to practice with full rights authority. Let us not wait for an emergency to give Californians the access to the health care they deserve, especially in Tracy.

Please support AB 890 by sending an email to Sen. Cathleen Galgiani at senator.galgiani@senate.ca.gov or by writing a letter to the senator regarding support for the bill.

Humayun Popal, a Tracy resident, is a registered nurse serving San Joaquin County. He is enrolled in the family nurse practitioner program at California State University, Stanislaus.

Assembly Bill 890 was passed by the state Assembly, 61-1, on Jan. 27 and sent to the state Senate, where it is waiting to be assigned to a committee.

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