Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants Play Key Role in Primary Care

Shot of a smiling doctor conversing with a senior patient

It can be frustrating to call your physician’s office only to hear it will be several weeks until you can see the doctor, especially during cold and flu season. This scenario is popping up more frequently in today’s primary care setting. The aging patient population, rise in chronic diseases, more newly-insured individuals seeking  primary care, all coupled with the shortage of physicians, leaves a gap in the healthcare market place.

The good news is you can often make same-day appointments with a board certified family nurse practitioner or physician assistant, depending on staffing at your primary care physician’s office. No, they’re not your physician, but you might be surprised what you don’t know about their role in your health.

What can a nurse practitioner/physician assistant do?
They provide most of the services a physician can in a primary care environment including diagnosis, ordering and performing tests, providing treatment plans and prescribing medication.

Isn’t seeing a physician better?
It depends. Many times, a patient is seen by a nurse practitioner or physician assistant for sick visits or walk-ins because the physician is not available at the most convenient time for the patient. Nurse practitioners or physician assistants can quickly identify symptoms and diagnose common illnesses, sending you on your way and getting you on the road to recovery.

What qualifies a nurse practitioner or physician assistant to provide some of the same care as my physician?
They must complete either a master’s degree or doctoral degree program, including advanced clinical training. Since they are recognized as expert healthcare providers, they are also subject to rigorous certifications, clinical outcome evaluations, periodic peer review and must follow a code of ethical practice. Just like physicians, they can specialize in different areas such as family practice, women’s health, pediatrics or mental health, among others.

How will my primary care provider know my medical history if they don’t see me personally?
Your nurse practitioner or physician assistant and primary care physician collaborate closely behind the scenes. As the head of your care team, your physician ultimately signs off on the care plan which allows them to maintain a close eye on your medical history.

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are an important part of the future of primary care. They are trained and vetted to provide care that matches the quality you’ve come to expect from the physicians at Memorial Physician Services.