UNITED STATES—Primary care is the foundation stone of healthcare services in the United States because it’s frequently the first point of call when you have a medical issue. Your primary care provider is the place where you forge a long-term relationship, built on trust and support.

These factors make primary care an essential service and a constant feature and source of support throughout every individual’s life. However, the current gaps in primary care facilities and access to services mean that this cornerstone of healthcare is under threat. Solutions to these challenges need to be found — and fast.

In this article, we will discover how family nurse practitioners are being mobilized to address these gaps across the United States. These highly skilled providers are equipped with the knowledge and experience needed to provide ingenious answers to shortfalls in primary care provision.

Read on to learn more about the role of family nurse practitioners and how they represent the future of primary healthcare services.

What is primary care?

Let’s start by understanding the definition of primary care and its significance to individuals and communities. Primary care is provided in the community, that is, in a doctor’s office or clinic, and addresses the “whole person” and their health needs.

It’s the point of entry and first port of call if you have a minor illness or injury or are worried about some aspect of your health or well-being. This is in contrast to emergency care, where you would seek urgent care for serious or life-threatening issues, where time is of the essence. Emergency care is typically provided in hospitals, in their emergency rooms.

Another aspect of primary care that’s different than emergency care is that by its nature it offers the opportunity for the patient and the healthcare provider to build up a long-term relationship so that your doctor, nurse, and the rest of the primary care team get to know you as a person. There’s also a strong focus on wellness and prevention of disease, so you may seek help and advice from your primary care provider on vaccinations, a healthy lifestyle, or screening for disease.

For most people, primary care services are their main contact with healthcare and offer a welcoming and inclusive environment where their needs are attended to. Good primary care outcomes mean that people can enjoy optimum health for the length of their lives in a setting that feels safe and familiar. Creating a safe environment inspires them to work with their healthcare provider towards their goals.

What are the current issues in primary care?

One of the key challenges facing primary care services today is that there are simply not enough primary care physicians available to serve the population.

This situation was highlighted in a study that looked at projected physician trends from 2017 to 2030. It assigned grades to individual states according to the predicted ratios for physician shortages. The study found the number of states predicted to receive a poor grade was set to rise from four in 2017 to 23 by 2030.The states predicted to be the worst affected were California, Florida, and Texas, with the overall picture for the United States being a pessimistic one.

This is at a time when there is increasing demand for primary care services thanks to an aging population — according to the 2020 census, the older population of people aged 65 and over is about 17% of the entire population of the United States at the time of publication. Many of the primary care physicians who are currently practicing are of an older generation and are expected to retire within the next five to 10 years.

Aside from the age of the population, the number of people in total in the United States is growing, albeit it at a slower rate than in previous years. Nevertheless, the increased size of the population of all ages means that primary healthcare services are facing bigger demands on their resources.

It’s also worth mentioning the effects of the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Its aims included making affordable health insurance accessible to more individuals and opening up the Medicaid program, which helps people of lower incomes with healthcare costs. While this means that more and more individuals have been accessing healthcare since it came into force, its natural consequence is that there is more of a strain on already pressurized healthcare resources.

Another factor to consider is that rural and deprived areas in particular suffer from a lack of physicians, meaning that not only are there gaps in primary care provision overall, but also gaps in access to care.

All these factors combined mean that there is a significant barrier to the healthcare needs of individuals being met going forward. Solutions are required sooner than later to meet the growing healthcare needs of the population.

If you are serious about answering the call for more qualified healthcare professionals, University of Indianapolis is an excellent choice to pursue one of several online family nurse practitioner programs, with quality professors and a flexible program structure, students can access the tools they need to meet the needs of a wide range of patients in settings across the country.

The role of family nurse practitioners

As highly skilled and educated healthcare professionals, family nurse practitioners have a vital role to play in the future of primary care services. As well as completing essential nurse training and education, family nurse practitioners will have completed a Master’s or Doctoral degree and advanced clinical training.

In addition, they will have achieved recognized certification and will be subject to regular assessment and peer review. They must also comply with a code of ethical practice to demonstrate their commitment to their role.

Family nurse practitioners may operate autonomously or as part of a team in a clinic or other healthcare setting. They can diagnose and treat diseases and conditions, and a large part of their role is about encouraging patients to take responsibility for their health and preventing illness. This makes them valuable and versatile members of the healthcare community, in the perfect position to serve the needs of their patients, from the very young right through to the elderly.

The kind of tasks they carry out include:

  • Examining patients
  • Performing diagnostic procedures like drawing blood
  • Ordering tests
  • Interpreting test results
  • Making diagnoses
  • Devising treatment plans
  • Prescribing medication
  • Performing procedures related to treatment like dressing wounds
  • Liaising with physicians and other healthcare professionals as necessary
  • Advising on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preventing disease
  • Keeping accurate and confidential records
  • Communicating effectively with patients, caregivers, and colleagues
  • Keeping up-to-date with the latest medical developments

The great news is that the full and varied role of these valuable caregivers is being recognized so that family nurse practitioners are being mobilized up and down the States to plug the gaps in primary care services.

Thousands of family nurse practitioners are graduating from primary care courses every year, several times more so than physicians. This is positive news for primary care services since the quality of care offered by family nurse practitioners is considered comparable to that of physicians.

It’s also interesting to note that nurse practitioners are more likely to take up posts in rural and under-resourced areas or sectors of society where healthcare provision is needed the most. They are more likely to treat Medicaid patients, for instance, or offer care for people who do not have health insurance, and at a lower cost.

The role of a family nurse practitioner is broad, offering many opportunities to resolve some of the gaps and challenges facing primary care. It should be noted, however, that nurse practitioners’ scope of practice differs according to the state. This means that while some states allow nurse practitioners full practice in terms of diagnosing and treating patients without the supervision of a physician, others only offer reduced practice or restricted practice.

This is therefore an area that is ripe for improvement, and with some legislative adjustments, there is even more scope for family nurse practitioners to make a tangible difference to the lives of people who are most in need of quality healthcare.

Despite any disparities, the future looks bright for nurse practitioners, with the number qualifying for this essential role set to increase over the coming years.

The key to the future

The key to addressing these gaps long-term and securing the future of primary care services throughout the United States is deploying highly skilled and educated healthcare professionals.

Family nurse practitioners have a special role to play in helping to strengthen primary care services, taking them forward to a brighter future. If you’re already a practicing nurse with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from an accredited establishment, you have the potential to help fulfill these goals.

With these credentials, you may be eligible to participate in online family nurse practitioner programs, such as the one provided by the University of Indianapolis. This course is designed to prepare you to step up to a family nurse practitioner role, giving you the knowledge, skills, and confidence you will need to fulfill your duties.

The program offers online learning which can be achieved on a part-time basis, which is ideal for busy working nurses who are keen to progress but also require flexibility to fit around their existing commitments.

The program also contains a practical element, with the Clinical Placement Department supporting you to find local placements where you can practice your skills. You will be supported throughout by an advisor and will get the chance to take part in an on-campus clinical intensive where you’ll learn essential practical skills.

Yet another benefit of this innovative program is that you can complete it in only eight semesters or 32 months, meaning you could be enjoying a new role as a family nurse practitioner a lot sooner than you thought possible.

Step into a family nurse practitioner role

With a growing and aging population, healthcare services including primary care are under strain in the United States. This problem is compounded by the fact that many physicians in practice today are heading towards retirement age and not enough are being trained to replenish numbers.

Fortunately, the role of family nurse practitioner is becoming increasingly recognized and popular. This means that these highly qualified professionals can step into the gaps in primary care provision, offering an excellent alternative to the traditional family doctor.

If you’re a practicing nurse or thinking about going into a career in this field, then it’s good to know that your skills are in demand. Additional study and professional development will help you progress to the role of family nurse practitioner and enjoy a satisfying career, helping your local community and supporting them in all of their health goals.