Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Nurses could fill gaps if patient demand booms

Capital News Service

LANSING – Some states may be expanding nurses’ authority to perform procedures normally done by doctors, but not Michigan.

As the federal health care law provides more people with insurance, and as Michigan’s shortage of doctors is predicted to grow, will the state be ready to serve newly-insured patients?

Rep. Robert B. Jones, D-Kalamazoo, said he thinks so.

“People now are going to be covered one way or another,” said Jones.

He said the shortage of doctors and nurses is already serious and comes down to people having insurance or going to emergency rooms for care.

James McCurtis, of the Department of Community Health, said that federal law will help to increase the number of doctors.

“We hope it improves because a lot of doctors are starting to opt out of accepting Medicaid,” McCurtis said. “When the health care law kicks in 2014, maybe reimbursements will increase to help doctors accept Medicaid, but it will still be up to the HMOs to hook up clients with a physician.”

Rose Ramirez, of Michigan State Medical Society (MSMS), said statistics show that there will be a shortage of primary care provides as health care needs and the number of insured people go up.

“Patients deserve to have a doctor,” Ramirez said.

She said that the MSMS opposes expanding nurses’ authority to do some of the traditional work of doctors because of the training gap between the two professions.

“Doctors have much higher education than nurse practitioners,” said Ramirez, president of Jupiter Family Medicine in Belmont.

For example, nurse practitioners going for their bachelor’s degree take courses in patient care, while doctors take rigorous courses in chemistry and biology, she said.

“Some doctors can train up to four to 12 years in medical school and resident program,” Ramirez said.

Other states give nurses more authority to make decisions. In Washington, the National Nurse Association wanted to allow nurses to prescribe medical marijuana to patients. Now nurse practitioners can prescribe medical marijuana once the law takes effect in June.

McCurtis said the board of medicine sets the standards for health practitioners and is not considering more authority for nurses.

A 2009 Michigan Center for Nursing report, “Michigan’s Nursing Workforce,” said medical care teams could improve quality care and increase the demand for nurses.

Teams provide patients with nurses, led by a personal physician, that give primary care at home.

Ramirez said the state already uses nurse practitioners regularly.

In general, the state is moving towards medical care teams that need to be supervised by physicians, she said.

There is no pending legislation on expanding the roles of nurses in the state, according to Jones.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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