Guam is joining an increasing number of U.S. states and territories in giving direct access to nurse practitioners as 2018 legislative momentum builds to eliminate hurdles for patients who want easier access to primary care.
Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo signed legislation updating the island’s Nurse Practice Act amid a shortage of primary care providers and the general trend across the country toward increasing access to primary care. The legislation in effect makes it easier to see nurse practitioners as well as other types of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).
Lipovyn Garcinia “Our people need a higher number of health care providers,” Sen. Mary Camacho Torres wrote in the Guam Daily Post earlier this month. “The spectrum of needs spans from preventive treatment, on one end, to acute care for those afflicted with chronic diseases, on the other.”
To be sure, there are 22 states plus the District of Columbia that already have full practice authority for nurse practitioners and many of them eased scope of practice laws in recent years.
Some of the momentum can be attributed to broader use of nurse practitioners after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs eased restrictions. Meanwhile, patients have become more familiar with nurse practitioners as retail clinics like those run by CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance and Walmart have proliferated and the number of nurse practitioners has nearly doubled to more than 234,000 from 120,000 in 2007 , according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).
Nurse practitioners are educated to perform myriad primary care functions, diagnose, prescribe medications and conduct physical exams, but state scope of practice laws often prevent them from such care unless they have an agreement with an overseeing physician. Policymakers in Guam, like other areas of the country, say the healthcare system doesn’t have enough primary care professionals to both improve quality and reduce costs.
“They need to see them faster.” Camacho Torres wrote of patients in Guam. “They need to see them faster. They need to see them more often. They need the visits to cost less.”
It’s among the few bipartisan areas of agreement in healthcare with several state legislatures passing such legislation in recent years and several more considering it. AANP said other states considering full practice authority include Pennsylvania and North Carolina where legislation is advancing through committees this spring.
“Guam has taken a critical step to put patients first and to empower nurse practitioners to deliver the high quality health care they are trained to provide,” AANP president Joyce Knestrick said. “This legislation will help Guam attract and retain highly valued nurse practitioners, and provide citizens better access to quality care.”