Making Decisions about Nurse Practitioners' Scope of Practice

Dec 23, 2009, 1:41 AM, Posted by Lori Melichar

Dr. David Eddy, founder of Archimedes, recently visited the Foundation to present ARCHeS, a Web-based delivery platform that enables policy-makers and health leaders to use the Archimedes model to run their own virtual trials. Dr. Eddy demonstrated a prototype version of what users can expect to access via ARCHeS and previewed new functionality that will allow providers and decision makers to use the model to tailor care decisions for individual patients. Pioneer is supporting Archimedes to build ARCHeS. 

What struck me about ARCHeS was the opportunity it presented to make evidence-based policy decisions about nurse practitioners’ scope of practice that could potentially result in significant savings. Currently, those who advocate for nurse practitioners playing an expanded, autonomous role in delivering primary care point to seminal evidence showing comparable outcomes in patients randomly assigned to either nurse practitioners or physicians where nurse practitioners had the same authority, responsibilities, productivity and administrative requirements, and patient population as primary care physicians. Though this research is not without its critics, it has been used successfully to convince many to see nurse practitioners as part of the solution to expanding access to primary care. 

Nevertheless, the debate around whether and how nurse practitioners’ scope of practice should be expanded and standardized nationally requires evidence that digs deeper into aggregate results. Policy makers need access to evidence that elucidates what nurse practitioners can do as well as physicians vs. tasks/responsibilities that should be left to physicians. 

For example, in his presentation, Eddy showed how ARCHeS, using evidence about both the cost and outcomes of nurse practitioners, indicates that having nurse practitioners administer shots to reduce cholesterol has a striking impact on the cost per QALY for a treatment option. Funders, including NIH, could use these criteria to prioritize funding condition/procedure-specific randomized control trials (RCTs) and other studies. 

To learn more about the implication of ARCHeS, I recommend reading a special report from Business Week entitled “Trimming Health-Care Costs Without Reforming the System,” which implies that the Archimedes model, when made accessible to policy makers and other decision makers, could lead to better decisions that could save billions in health care costs.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.