The aims of this article are to examine the scope of practice differences between physician assistant and nurse practitioner providers, to identify financial cost and benefits, and to posit the impact of physician extenders on plastic surgery practices.
A review of the literature was performed using the PubMed database. Key words included “plastic surgery AND physician extender AND cost,” “plastic surgery AND physician assistant AND cost,” and “plastic surgery AND nurse practitioner AND cost.” Secondarily, a search was performed for plastic surgery–related specialties of maxillofacial surgery, orthopedic surgery, and otolaryngology. Inclusion criteria consisted of any study design measuring the financial benefits associated with integrating physician extenders.
The PubMed search yielded 91 articles. Eight articles were ultimately included, of which four (plastic, maxillofacial, and orthopedic) discussed the impact of physician assistants and four (orthopedic and otolaryngology) discussed the impact of nurse practitioners. All eight studies demonstrated that integration of physician assistants and nurse practitioners into practices was associated with a net financial gain even after taking into account their overall costs, along with other outcomes such as productivity or time involvement.
As the number of physician extenders continues to grow, especially in subspecialties, plastic surgeons should be aware of their roles and the potentially positive impact of these providers, their respective training, and their quantifiable financial impact toward a plastic surgery practice. Both physician assistants and nurse practitioners appear to have a positive effect on costs in plastic surgery and plastic surgery–related practices.