Improving access to appropriate health care, currently inadequate for many Americans, is more complex than merely increasing the projected number of physicians and nurses. Any attainable increase in their numbers will not solve the problem. To bring supply and demand closer, new systems of care are required, leveraging every member of the health care workforce, permitting professionals to provide their unique contributions.
To increase supply: Redefine the roles of physicians and nurse practitioners (NPs), assess how much primary care must be delivered by a physician, and provide support from other team members to let the physician deal with complex patients. NPs can deliver much primary care and some specialty care. Care must be delivered in integrated systems permitting new payment models (e.g., salary with bonus) and team-based care as well as maximum use of electronic health records. Teams must make better use of nonprofessionals, such as Grand-Aides, using telephone protocols and portable telemedicine with home visits and online direct reporting of every encounter. The goals are to improve health and reduce unnecessary clinic and emergency department visits, admissions, and readmissions.
To decrease demand: Physician payment must foster quality and appropriate patient volume (if accompanied by high patient satisfaction). Patients must be part of the team, work to remain healthy, and reduce inappropriate demand.
The nation may not need as many physicians and nurses if the systems can be changed to promote integration, leveraging every member of the workforce to perform at his or her maximum competency.