Several myths continue to persist about PAs and NPs, Ms. Marriott said. Some administrators and physicians believe that they can’t see new patients, that a physician must see every patient, that a physician cosignature means that a claim can be submitted under the physician’s name, that reimbursement for services provided by PAs and NPs “leaves 15% on the table,” and that patients won’t be happy being seen by a PA or an NP. All of those things are false, she said.
“We really need to improve people’s understanding in a lot of different places – it’s not just at the clinician level,” she said. “It goes all the way through the operations team, and the operations team has some very old-fashioned thinking about what PAs and NPs really are, which is – they believe – clinical support staff.”
But she suggested that the phrase “working at the top of one’s license” can be used too freely – individual experience and ability will encompass a range of practices, she said.
“I’m licensed to drive a car,” she said. “But you do not want me in the Daytona 500. I am not capable of driving a race car.”
She cautioned that nurse practitioner care must still involve an element of collaboration, according to the Medicaid benefit policy manual, even if they work in states that allow NPs to provide “independent” care. They must have documentation “indicating the relationships that they have with physicians to deal with issues outside their scope of practice,” the manual says.
“Don’t ask me how people prove it,” Ms. Marriott said. “Just know that, if someone were to audit you, then you would need to show what this looks like.”
Regarding the 15% myth, she showed a calculation: Data from the Medical Group Management Association show that median annual compensation for a physician is $134 an hour and that it’s approximately $52 an hour for a PA or NP. An admission history and physical that takes an hour can be reimbursed at $102 for a physician and at 85% of that – $87 – for a PA or NP. That leaves a deficit of $32 for the physician and a surplus of $35 for the PA or NP.
“If you properly deploy your PAs and NPs, you’re going to generate positive margins,” Ms. Marriott said.
Physicians often scurry about seeing all the patients that have already been seen by a PA, she said, because they think they must capture the extra 15% reimbursement. But that is unnecessary, she said.
“Go do another admission. You should see patients because of their clinical condition. My point is not that you go running around because you want to capture the extra 15% – because that provides no additional medically necessary care.”
Many institutions continue to be hamstrung by their own bylaws in the use of NPs and PAs. It’s true that a physician doesn’t have to see every patient, unless it’s required in a hospital’s rules, Ms. Marriott noted.
“Somebody step up, get on the bylaws committee, and say, ‘Let’s update these.’ ” she said.
As for patient satisfaction, access and convenience routinely rank higher on the patient priority lists than provider credentials. “The patient wants to get off the gurney in the ED and get to a room,” she said.
But changing hospital bylaws and practices is also about the responsible use of health care dollars, Ms. Marriott affirmed.
“More patients seen in a timely fashion, and quality metrics improvement: Those are all things that are really, really important,” she said. “As a result, [if bylaws and practice patterns are changed] the physicians are hopefully going to be happier, certainly the administration is going to be happier, and the patients are going to fare better.”
Scott Faust, MS, APRN, CNP, an acute care nurse practitioner at Health Partners in St. Paul, Minn., said that teamwork without egos is crucial to success for all providers on the hospital medicine team, especially at busier moments.
“Nobody wants to be in this alone,” he said. “I think the hospitalist teams that work well are the ones that check their titles at the door.”
PAs and NPs generally agree that, as long as all clinical staffers are working within their areas of skill without being overly concerned about specific titles and roles, hospitals and patients will benefit.
“I’ve had physicians at my organization say ‘We need to have an NP and PA set of educational requirements,’ and I said, ‘We have some already for physicians, right? Why aren’t we using that?’ ” Dr. Houghton said. “I think we should have the same expectations clinically. At the end of the day, the patient deserves the same outcomes and the same care, whether they’re being cared for by a physician, an NP, or a PA.”