How Do Nurse Practitioners Compare to MDs as Primary Care Providers? Rather Well

From 1998 to 1999, researchers at the Columbia University School of Nursing conducted the second phase of a study comparing nurse practitioners and physicians as primary care providers.

During Phase I, researchers assigned patients randomly to either a nurse practitioner or a physician at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. Researchers had found no significant differences in the health status or health services utilization of patients in the two study groups, after one year.

To see if the findings were maintained over an additional year, in Phase II of the study researchers collected additional data through 756 patient interviews (439 with the nurse practitioner group and 318 with the physician group).

Key Findings

  • Patients who were assigned to nurse practitioners were similar demographically to patients assigned to physicians.

  • In the year before this data collection:

    • Thirty-three percent of patients received care only at the assigned clinic.
    • Six percent received care at the assigned clinic and another provider.
    • Twenty-seven percent only sought care elsewhere.
    • Thirty-two percent did not seek primary health care at all.
  • Researchers concurred with the preliminary results: in an ambulatory care situation where nurse practitioners have the same authority, responsibility, productivity and administrative requirements as physicians, patient outcomes are comparable.