Evidence Contradicts AAFP: NPs Ideal for Leading Patient-Centered Medical Homes

By Karen Roush MS, RN, FNP-C, AJN clinical managing editor

What will it take to end the turf war physicians are waging  against nurse practitioners? The latest foray is over who should lead patient-centered medical homes (PCMH). According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), only physicians should. They insist that nurse practitioners do not have the knowledge or skills to do so and that expanding the NP’s role in primary care would create a “two-tiered health system,” with patients who are cared for by an NP receiving a lower level of care.

That’s not what the evidence says. Or patients for that matter. Studies consistently find that when care provided by NPs is compared to care provided by physicians, the care is similar as far as prescriptions ordered and referrals made—most important, outcomes are the same.

Well, there is one area where differences keep showing up: patient satisfaction. Patients consistently say that they are more satisfied with care provided by nurse practitioners. They say that nurse practitioners listen better, spend more time with them, and provide them with more information.

Not only are nurse practitioners capable of leading medical homes, their education and skills make them ideal for this role. Whereas physicians focus on pathology and have the depth of knowledge and skill to manage highly complex patients, NPs focus on the “human response to disease” and take a more holistic approach to patient care. Nurses coordinate care all the time, identifying the need for and arranging home care, rehabilitative care, nutritional support, and so on. Combine this with an NP’s well-documented diagnostic and patient management skills, and their qualification for this role is obvious.

There already exists a two-tiered health system in this country—but not the one AAFP is imagining. It’s between those who have access to care and those who do not. Expanding the role of nurse practitioners in primary care is one of our best hopes for alleviating that. We know it, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) knows it, and patients know it. It’s time for physicians to accept it.

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2016-11-21T13:09:11+00:00 October 3rd, 2012|nursing perspective|4 Comments
Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Shawn Kennedy October 14, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    Here’s a great piece by Jack Rowe, a physician, former CEO of Mt SInai Medical Center in NYC and former chair of Aetna and member of IOM committee on the Future of Nursing:

  2. suki October 4, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Although I am not a NP. I work with some. The Physicians complain they need to “teach their thinking” to the NPs they work with. Physicians outright have admitted that NPs they work with are too into “listening” to the patient. The docs work hard to change their frame of mind. They have said, “we have to tell them THEY need to tell the patient, no you don’t have pain” There does not seem to be an appreciation for how nursing is approached. The patient is the center of this picture. Until physicans truly see that, there will always be a divide.

  3. ninjanurse October 3, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    I had a lot of arguments with people who said we don’t have enough doctors for health care reform. Hey, we didn’t have enough astronauts when JFK started the space race but build it and they will come. NP’s are part of the answer to the huge need for basic primary care for everyone.

  4. Lois Roelofs October 3, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Reblogged this on Lois Roelofs and commented:
    As nursing advocate and journalist Suzanne Gordon says, Stand Up for Nursing! Read how Nurse Practitioners (NPs) can play a major role in our health care system.

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