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Nurse practitioners are valuable care providers

By BY MICHAEL HAZEL
Nov. 11, 2013 at 5:11 a.m.

Michael Hazel

National Nurse Practitioner Week takes place Nov. 10-16 and is a time to recognize and celebrate the unique skills and abilities of these exceptional health care providers.

With Texas having eight of the 15 fastest-growing U.S. cities, our population is booming from the High Plains of West Texas to the Houston suburbs, I-35 corridor and all points in between. With tremendous population growth comes increased demands on our health care system. Nurse practitioners can help.

Unfortunately, Texas currently ranks 47th among 50 states in supply of primary care physicians. We have 185 counties (73 percent of the state) that are designated as medically underserved and will see between 1.5 million and 2 million more low-income Texans eligible for Medicaid in 2014. Nurse practitioners can help.

There are approximately 12,000 nurse practitioners practicing throughout Texas, providing high-quality, cost-effective and patient-centered health care from rural health clinics such the NP-owned Family Care Clinic of Panhandle to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Center in Houston. For far too long, state law has served as a barrier for nurse practitioners - nurses with graduate degrees, national certification, advanced knowledge and clinical skills - to practice to the full extent of our education and certification. The limitations on our ability to meet the needs of patients have represented an obstacle for too long that threatens our state's ability to provide basic health care to our fellow Texans.

Some of that changed Nov. 1, when Senate Bill 406 by Sen. Jane Nelson and Rep. Lois Kolkhorst took effect.

With an aging population, significant health disparities and Texas' high prevalence of some of the most costly and chronic diseases - like diabetes, for one such example - expanding access to primary health care services provided by NPs is absolutely essential to increasing patient safety, access and continuity of care. Our friends and families in Texas' most rural areas also struggle to get primary care, but, hopefully, that will change. SB 406 reduces some of the regulatory restrictions that we hope will help increase access to care by making it easier for physicians and NPs to work together, thus further encouraging more nurse practitioners to move to areas of need.

Why is removing the regulatory burden on NPs a good idea? While the number of primary care physicians continue to fall, the exact opposite is true for NPs with numbers increasing at an astronomical clip. The number of NPs increased by 86.3 percent between 2000 and 2009 and are expected to swell 130 percent by 2025. That's welcome news for moms, dads, kids and local communities who have struggled for many years to get in to see a primary care physician when they need to most.

At a time when health care premiums and co-insurance costs are on the rise, the fact that the average cost of a nurse practitioner visit is 20 to 35 percent lower than the average cost of an office visit with a physician means savings for Texas families. So not only do NPs provide exceptional care, but they also do so in a more cost-effective manner. It's win-win for Texas families.

In recognition of the many contributions that NPs provide throughout Texas, I hope that you will join me in thanking them for their dedication to the health and well-being of your local community.

Michael Hazel, a Navasota resident, is the president of Texas Nurse Practitioners and has been a member of the organization for 10 years. He previously served as president of the Brazos Area Nurse Practitioners and is a board certified family and acute care nurse practitioner in Bryan/College Station and has practiced in the emergency room for 18 years.

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