The primary care turf war: could nurse practitioners play the role of doctor?

Jun 11, 2012

Earlier this week, soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner filed a brief challenging the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act. But the 32 million Americans who would receive access to healthcare from the reform bill have more to worry about than Boehner and the Republican party. There’s currently a shortage of primary care physicians in some areas of the nation, and it’s about to get worse.

That’s Thomas Bodenheimer, adjunct professor at UCSF’s Department of Family & Community Medicine says the shortage is becoming nationwide. He’s one of the nation’s leading scholars in the primary care workforce. We spoke with him a few months ago. This is what he had to say:

“There are areas that are what we call ‘primary care shortage areas.’ And those areas are now expanding. By 2020, there will be about 40,000 adult primary care physicians too few in this country,” says Bodenheimer.

The Association of American Medical Colleges recently revised its shortage forecast from 40,000 to 60,000 needed physicians by 2015, which is even worse. So you might be wondering: who’s going to take care of us?

The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine has a solution: nurse practitioners. A recent report by the Institute said that giving nurse practitioners a greater and more independent role can help the nation adapt to the changing healthcare system.

KALW’s Erica Mu reports on that controversial conclusion.