Utah is the latest in a parade of states giving direct access to nurse practitioners following passage of legislation that eliminates hurdles for patients who need primary care.
Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, earlier this week signed into law legislation that allows nurse practitioners to practice independently, no longer requiring supervision by a physician. There are now 27 states plus the District of Columbia and two U.S. territories that have awarded full practice authority to NPs. Less than a year ago, Kansas and New York became the 25th and 26th states to grant direct access to nurse practitioners.
The rush to approve such legislation comes during a period of intense focus on primary care as the population ages and trends in health insurance and science move more care to an outpatient setting. Meanwhile, there is a shortage of primary care physicians and primary care providers of all varieties are complaining of burnout amid the historic COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the last two and a half years, four other states have taken similar action,” April N. Kapu, president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) said Thursday. “These changes will help Utah attract and retain nurse practitioners, and provide patients access to high-quality care. We thank Governor Cox and the legislature for prioritizing patients and taking action to improve health care in the Beehive State.”
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. AANP said full practice authority is “the authorization of NPs to evaluate patients, diagnose, order and interpret diagnostic tests, initiate and manage treatments, and prescribe medications under the exclusive licensure authority of the state board of nursing.”
As Amazon enters the business of primary care and retail clinics like those run by CVS Health’s MinuteClinic business and Walmart have proliferated the need for primary care providers grows. Meanwhile, hospitals and health systems embrace a team-based approach to medical care delivery so patients have become more familiar with nurse practitioners as an option to a busy doctor’s office and quick access to treat routine maladies.
“Utah joins an expanding list of states acting to retire outdated laws that have needlessly constrained their health care workforce and limited patient access to care,” said Jon Fanning, chief executive officer of AANP. “Modernizing licensure laws is a no-cost,no-delay solution to strengthening the health of the nation. Decades of research show that states with Full Practice Authority are better positioned to improve access to care, grow their workforce and address health care disparities, while delivering quality health outcomes for patients. We look forward to more states following suit.”