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Nurse Practitioners Predict Doc Shortages, Care Access to Loom in 2024

Workforce shortages are leading to long appointment wait times and exacerbating increased patient demand, but nurse practitioners could fill in the gaps, AANP said.

Provider shortages, appointment wait times, increasing patient demand, and a shift toward more primary care are top of mind for nurse practitioners going into this year, says the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), which recently outlined its predictions for 2024.

The good news is, NPs are well positioned to address the primary care shortage areas, growing appointment wait times, increased demand for senior care, and shift of mental health screenings into primary care with the increase in practicing NPs, the organization said.

"As health care continues to evolve, nurse practitioners are at the forefront of change, consistently adapting to meet the dynamic needs of patients and their communities," AANP President Stephen A. Ferrara, DNP, said in a press release.

"Patients deserve access to high-quality health care nationwide, and NPs are urging other health care leaders and policymakers to prioritize policies that make health care more efficient and effective by making 2024 the Year of Patient-Centered Health Care."

Heading into the new year, AANP is keeping an eye on the growing primary care provider shortage, citing Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) figures stating that 102 million Americans live in a primary care shortage area. That’s a 3 percent jump from a year ago, AANP said.

The trade group also flagged increasing appointment wait times as a prevailing issue for 2024. Long wait times have been a problem for some time, with a 2022 report from Merritt Hawkins showing that the average appointment wait time in 2022 was 26 days. In July 2023, AANP itself reported that a quarter of patients face two-month appointment wait times and that four in 10 patients faced wait times that they considered longer than reasonable.

Long wait times can often mean patients don’t get care at all, AANP added. Nearly half of those who faced long waits gave up on getting the care they needed, its survey said.

That problem is likely to be exacerbated by increased patient demand, particularly from the senior patient population. Right now, Baby Boomers total about 73 million people, who by 2030 will be at least 65 years old and approaching 85. With age often comes complex healthcare conditions, and with NPs already spearheading much of the care delivered to the Medicare population, AANP asserted greater scope of practice will be key to meeting demand.

That senior patient demand is complemented by greater demand in primary care, where providers are tasked with more mental healthcare duties. More mental health screenings are happening in primary care settings, AANP said, which could require a boost to the provider pool.

NPs are well positioned to fill these gaps, AANP said as its fifth prediction for the new year. The US is home to more than 385,000 licensed NPs who complete more than 1 billion care encounters annually. With regard to primary care in particular, 90 percent of NPs are trained in this specialty. This is salient in rural areas, with NPs representing 1 in 4 primary care providers in rural practices.

Heading into 2024, AANP indicated that expanding nurse practitioner scope of practice will be a key measure in contending with workforce challenges and care access problems slated to take place.

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