Monday, January 17, 2011

Nurse Practitioners: Should the Sun Shine, or Shadows Fall?

The other day, we wrote about a medication adherence study that ran in the American Journal of Managed Care. Pharmacists, the authors said, were second only to nurses – in the right milieu – in getting patients to stick to their medication game plan.

We bring this up because a second study in the same journal is also talking about nurses. But here, the study’s focus is on nurse practitioners. And the study’s topic is nurse practitioners and industry influence.The study’s authors are concerned that NP's see no conflict of interest with drug reps promotions.  The respondents to this study see no problem with handing out samples, learning about new drugs at industry-sponsored dinners, attending industry-sponsored CME, and so on.

The authors suggest, “Future research should assess influences of evidence-based academically sponsored continuing education programs on NP prescribers’ beliefs and practices.”

The researchers’ fears are based on the fact that these professionals are going to become more prominent in the delivery of patient care going forward. The number of physicians planning to enter general internal medicine is significantly dropping. Nurse practitioners, who now number at least 150,000 in this country, are allowed to prescribe most drugs in every state.

And now the reason we bring the med adherence study into this blog. Back in 1993, the Gallup people polled patients about their willingness to see a nurse practitioner. The results: 86% said yes, we like them. Why? Their communication skills and the way they promote health. Considering the scarcity of doctors and the little time they can give to patients -- there is no reason to presume that the 86% figure has decreased since then.

According to the nurse practitioners' study, the industry directed 20% more of its marketing efforts between 2004 and 2006 to these ancillary HCPs. We advise folks to proceed with caution here.  We believe that these healthcare professionals should be treated as the educated, intelligent individuals that they are.

And industry critics need to be careful here as well. The unintended consequences of taking away all industry-provided tools could be detrimental to patients’ welfare.

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