Utilization of Nurse Practitioners to Increase Patient Access to Primary Healthcare in Canada – Thinking Outside the Box
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In the past decade, all Canadian provinces and territories have launched various team-based primary healthcare initiatives designed to improve access and continuity of care. Nurse practitioners (NPs) are increasingly becoming integral members of primary healthcare teams across the country. This paper draws on the results of a scoping review of the literature and qualitative key informant interviews conducted for a decision support synthesis about advanced practice nursing in Canada. We describe and analyze two novel approaches to NP integration designed to address the gap in patient access to primary healthcare: (1) the integration of NPs in traditional fee-for-service practices in British Columbia, and (2) the creation of NP-led clinics in Ontario. Although fee-for-service remuneration has been a barrier to collaborative practice, the integration of government-salaried NPs into fee-for-service practices in British Columbia has enabled the creation of inter-professional teams, and based on early evaluation findings, has increased patient access to care and patient and provider satisfaction. NP-led clinics are designed to provide inter-professional care in communities with high numbers of patients who do not have a regular primary healthcare provider. Given the shortage of physicians in communities where these clinics are being introduced, the ratio of physicians to NPs is lower than in other primary healthcare delivery models, and physicians function in more of a consulting role. Initial evaluation of the first of 26 NP-led clinics indicates increased access to care and high levels of patient and provider satisfaction. Implementing a creative mosaic of collaborative primary healthcare models that are responsive to patient needs challenges traditional assumptions about professional roles and responsibilities. To address this challenge, we endorse a recommendation that governments establish a mechanism to bring together both physician and non-physician primary healthcare providers to advise on primary healthcare policy development and implementation.
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