Whether you call them "allied health providers," "mid-level practitioners," or, as the CDC refers to them, "healthcare extenders," non-MD professionals are on the front lines of healthcare and they are only growing in importance. They're the nurses, diabetes educators, physician assistants, social workers, dietitians, respiratory therapists, and others who translate the "what" of a physician's orders into the "how-to" for patients and care partners. And their numbers are trending up.
Our sister company, HealthEd Academy, which provides actionable healthcare market research, recently released a free report on how healthcare extenders are using technology to quietly transform the healthcare system—one clinical encounter at a time. As leading healthcare influencers have picked up this story, like MM&M magazine, Pixels and Pills, World of DTC Marketing, The Nerdy Nurse, and SmartBrief, I thought it was time to weigh in with some points of my own.
Here are 7 reasons why healthcare organizations of all stripes need to embrace healthcare extenders and spend more time learning about their needs:
- Their ranks are increasing. Amid the talk of looming physician shortages, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting 20%-plus job growth for many healthcare extender job categories over the next decade. Nurses are projected to grow by 26%. Diabetes educators are projected to grow by 60%!
- Demand is increasing. Not only is the US population aging, but at the same time the Affordable Care Act will be giving millions of uninsured people health coverage. Perfect storm? Many healthcare extenders are hanging up their own shingle to address the wave of new patients.
- They can prescribe. Nurse practitioners have some prescribing authority in all 50 states. PAs can prescribe in 48 states. And pharmacists are providing critical prescription guidance to patients right at the point of purchase.
- Patients trust them ... often more than doctors. A USA Today/Gallup poll raised eyebrows a few years ago when it found that Americans trust nurses and pharmacists more than any other professional, including physicians.
- They serve as critical patient resources. Of the healthcare extenders surveyed for our report, 59% said that patients "sometimes" or "often" bring information they find on the Internet to discuss. It's not surprising, then, to learn that 82% of extenders in private practices and 60% in outpatient clinics point their patients to credible health Web sites.
- They are eager to learn. Healthcare extenders are typically educators themselves, and as such they are receptive to learning about new methods and technologies. I love this quote from a cancer center nurse who participated in the HealthEd Academy survey: "We need to train the trainer first. A majority of baby boomers may not be comfortable with technology. Yet, as patient educators, they have so much valid and useful knowledge." Many opportunities there.
- In a few years, healthcare extenders will be the primary users of EHR. You heard it here first. To achieve Stage 3, meaningful use, users of electronic health records will need to show patient engagement and improved outcomes. That engagement will come not from simply collecting medical data but by disseminating relevant and timely patient education—clearly the domain of healthcare extenders. Already 70% of those taking our survey said their facility will have adopted EHR by the end of 2012.
Intrigued? Concerned? Inspired? Good! You can learn more by downloading the free report, taking a quick peek at the infographic, or even contacting me to talk about getting closer to the healthcare extenders in your field.