When we talk about “healthcare professionals,” we often assume that’s synonymous with “physician.” However, nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) are part of our HCP universe; they’re licensed to prescribe medication and provide various types of patient care, examining, diagnosing, educating, and counseling their patients.

A quick sidebar on the two professions: While PAs nearly always work under the supervision of a physician, NP roles vary by state and can practice independently. NPs must be RNs with an undergraduate Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) who have then completed a masters’ — or PhD-level — program. PAs usually have two years of undergraduate coursework and several years of experience as a paramedic, technician, or certified nursing assistant (CNA) before completing a PA program that usually confers a master’s degree.

The vast majority of the ~290K NPs in the U.S. have a primary-care focus, whereas the ~116K PAs are more widely distributed across specialties, particularly emergency medicine and surgery subspecialties. But just about every specialty you can think of – certainly dermatology, endocrinology, ENT, gastroenterology, OB/GYN, rheumatology, urology – has a place for NPs and PAs. Increasingly, this includes hospital medicine, where these clinicians work alongside hospitalists, handling admissions, discharges, and some familiar conditions.

Just about every specialty you can think of has a place for NPs and PAs.

Some controversy does exist, particularly in delineating the roles of these clinicians in the healthcare paradigm. Some NPs and PAs have taken issue with terms used to describe their roles, such as “midlevel provider,” “physician extender,” “nonphysician,” or “noctor,” finding them demeaning. Some physicians are troubled by the potential for NPs and PAs to be put in diagnosis or treatment situations for which their training and education has left them unprepared. And some practices and patients seek to bypass NPs and PAs in favor of physicians.

All three of these issues can be remediated with clarity. The roles of NPs and PAs are different from each other — and different from the role of physicians — so it’s important to make those distinctions. Healthcare professionals are here to serve patients; none of us wants to put anyone at risk. We do, however, all work better when we can collaborate in ways that magnify our strengths, and minimize our opportunities for error.

Brands can help improve this collaborative effort by engaging with NPs and PAs. Often, these HCPs can benefit from medical education support in different ways, and to different extents, than a physician with extensive medical education. Their training typically doesn’t include comprehensive information on the details of a condition, or the pathways of a disease. Additionally, as prescribers, they can benefit greatly from receiving drug information.

Often, these HCPs can benefit from medical education support in different ways, and to different extents than physicians.

Brands have an opportunity to benefit these clinicians, as well as patients and physicians, by building and strengthening their relationships with NPs and PAs. Engaging them helps the entire care team perform at a higher level.

 

Glen Davis, MD, MBA is VP of Medical Strategy at Intouch Group.