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Nurse Practitioners Filling Care Void

Some patients say they're more satisfied with the less rushed, more holistic style of care they receive from nurse practitioners.

"It got to the point where my doctor was in such a hurry, he wouldn't even look me in the face," said Diane Gass, a North Philadelphia resident who has been a patient at her neighborhood nurse-run health center since it opened about a decade ago.

Gass, 61, said her nurse practitioner took four hours during the first visit taking her medical history and getting to know her.

"For years the doctor was treating me for ulcers, but I was in such pain," she recalled. "The nurse kept asking me questions about the pain and about my medical history, and we got to the bottom of what was really going on: I had a gallstone."

One outpatient procedure later, Gass' gallstone _ and her chronic pain _ were gone for good.

A 2000 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that patients who receive primary care from nurse practitioners fare just as well as those treated by doctors and report similar levels of satisfaction with their care.

Nurse practitioners also have steadily been gaining greater acceptance by insurers and in most states. In about half of the states, nurse practitioners _ who frequently have lower fees for office visits than doctors _ are now recognized by insurance carriers as primary care physicians.

In all but seven states, they can practice either independently or with remote collaboration with doctors. In all states except Georgia, they have some level of independent authority to prescribe medications; some states do prohibit nurse practitioners from prescribing narcotics.

"One of the statistics that stands out is that we (nurse practitioners) see our patients twice as often as similar practices of physicians," said Tine Hansen-Turton, executive director of the National Nursing Centers Consortium, a Philadelphia-based industry group. "Doing primary care well is the foundation for saving health care dollars _ working on improving health early instead of, for example, paying for coronary surgery and bypasses later."

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On the Net:

American Academy of Nurse Practitioners: http://www.aanp.org

American Medical Association: http://www.ama-assn.org

National Nursing Centers Consortium: http://www.nncc.us


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© 2006 The Associated Press