Acute and growing shortage of primary care docs elevating role of pharmacists, nurse practitioners

67 million Americans rely on pharmacists and NPs

Who needs the services of community pharmacists and the nurse practitioners who staff retail-based walk-in clinics and ambulatory care centers? Among others, the nearly 67 million Americans underserved by primary care physicians.

That’s the number of U.S. residents currently living in a part of the country where there’s a shortage of primary care doctors, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. What’s more, access to the family doctor is getting harder and harder even for those who do have a regular physician, according to the research group Marketdata Enterprises.

Of that group, “only 57% report having access to same- or next-day appointments, and 63% [have] difficulty getting access to care on nights, weekends or holidays without going to the emergency room,” the company reported in late September. What’s more, one in five adults “waited six days or more to see a doctor when they were sick in 2010,” Drug Store News senior editor Antoinette Alexander reported last week, quoting Marketdata research.

The growing dearth of primary care physicians is one big trend spurring the explosive growth of disease management and preventative health and wellness services from chain and independent pharmacists. It’s also driving the recent upsurge in retail clinics — and the growing menu of health and diagnostic services offered by NPs in those clinics.

It’s about access and convenience. Patients who suffer a severe sprain or need a flu shot or sports physical don’t want to wait days to see a doctor, and neither they nor their insurers want to spend the time or money it takes to visit a typical physician practice or emergency room for relatively minor or preventative care.

As Alexander reports, the need for more accessible and affordable primary-care alternatives is also one factor behind the decision by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the American College of Nurse Practitioners to merge their organizations, effective Jan. 1, 2013. For the combined organization, which will be known as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners or AANP, it’s about speaking with one voice to more effectively serve patients in a fast-changing health system, according to DSN.

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