Primary care practices increasingly include nurse practitioners (NPs), in addition to physicians. Little is known about how the patient mix and clinical activities of colocated physicians and NPs compare.
To describe the clinical activities of NPs, compared with physicians.
We used claims and electronic health record data from athenahealth Inc., on primary care practices in 2017 and a cross-sectional analysis with practice fixed effects.
Patients receiving treatment from physicians and NPs within primary care practices.
First, we measured patient characteristics (payer, age, sex, race, chronic condition count) and visit characteristics (new patient, scheduled duration, same-day visit, after-hours visit). Second, we measured procedures performed and diagnoses recorded during each visit. Finally, we measured daily quantity (visit volume, minutes scheduled for patient care, total work relative value units billed) of care.
Relative to physicians, NPs treated younger and healthier patients. NPs also had a larger share of patients who were female, non-White, and covered by Medicaid, commercial insurance, or no insurance. NPs scheduled longer appointments and treated more patients on a same-day or after-hours basis. On average, “overlapping” services—those performed by NPs and physicians within the same practice—represented 92% of all service volume. The small share of services performed exclusively by physicians reflected greater clinical intensity. On a daily basis, NPs provided fewer and less intense visits than physicians within the same practice.
Our findings suggest considerable overlap between the clinical activities of colocated NPs and physicians, with some differentiation based on intensity of services provided.