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Nurse practitioners, physician assistants: Meeting a need in primary care

A woman in white with a stethoscope around her neck checks information on a laptop.

Dec. 4, 2018—Going in for a checkup or other primary care visit doesn't always mean seeing a doctor. You might see a nurse practitioner (NP) or physician assistant (PA) instead. NPs and PAs have been around for decades. And across the country, their role in primary care is expected to expand.

The reason? There aren't enough physicians entering the profession to meet future demands. So it's important to know whether the care NPs and PAs provide for chronic illnesses equals that of a primary care doctor. And the answer is yes, a new study says.

The study involved 368,481 people with type 2 diabetes who saw either a physician, an NP or a PA at Department of Veterans Affairs clinics. All of the participants took medication as part of their care. To look for differences in treatment results, the researchers compared three key measures of diabetes management: the participants' A1C blood sugar, blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels.

Here's what they found:

  • There were no major differences in treatment results regardless of whether the care was provided by an NP, PA or physician.
  • The findings held up even when the study authors looked at patients with more severe diabetes (such as those on insulin or those in poor health).

The authors of this study said it provides more evidence that NPs and PAs can help meet the growing need for primary care providers.

The study appears in Annals of Internal Medicine.

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