Increasingly, state legislatures and nursing boards across the country are weighing the possibility of giving nurse practitioners (NPs) the authority to treat patients without the oversight (at least on paper) of a physician.
According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, these professionals already have full practice authority in 26 states – including New York. California has a law taking effect in January that will gradually allow NPs to become qualified for a new status that provides greater autonomy. By 2026, some NPs should be able to practice in locations that have no physicians.
Greater independence for NPs would help underserved areas
Those across the country who have been advocating for this increased autonomy point to the important role NPs could serve in rural and low-income urban areas with critical shortages of doctors. This has only worsened as the health care system became dangerously overloaded in the past few years.
Currently, Pennsylvania law still requires that NPs have a collaborative agreement with a physician in order to practice, even though the doctor doesn’t have to be on site. Lawmakers in the Pennsylvania Senate and General Assembly have been working to get legislation passed that would remove the need for that agreement.
One state senator behind the current senate bill says, “A significant number of Pennsylvanians, including numerous residents in my district, live in areas underserved by our current health care delivery system.” She adds that “allowing certified nurse practitioners to provide primary care should be an easy – and obvious – approach to addressing part of this problem.”
The head of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Nurse Practitioners calls Pennsylvania’s law “outdated.” She argues that NPs should be “permitted to do what we were trained and educated to do.”
The agreement with a doctor is a technicality – but it’s required
Some NPs are essentially running clinics and treating patients on their own. However, they need an agreement with a doctor who practices in Pennsylvania. If that doctor retires or moves and they can’t find another one, they’re forced to close – often leaving their patients without anyone to provide regular health care for them.
Despite the clear problems with the state’s “scope of practice” law as it currently stands, NPs need to adhere to it. Failing to do so can cost them their license. If you’re facing disciplinary action or the threat of a loss of your license, it’s crucial to seek experienced legal guidance.