Who's your prescriber now? Demand for NPs and PAs is booming, according to report

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Physicians are still the most coveted of all healthcare practitioners, a recent assessment of medical job recruiting data shows, but demand for NPs and PAs is surging and is expected to increase.

According to a report from MerrittHawkins, which tracked physician and advanced practitioner recruiting assignments between April 1, 2017, and March 31, 2018, nurse practitioners and physician assistants rose to third most requested category of HCP (coming in just behind family medicine doctors and psychiatrists), reflecting the largest 12-month growth in demand recorded for that group.

Advanced practice professionals also ranked number two on the study's list of top search assignments for the first time. What healthcare trends are behind this recent upswing?

One factor fueling the surge in demand for NPs and PAs is a nationwide shortage of physicians at the recruiting level. And the end of this deficit isn't exactly in sight, either; the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects a shortage of up to 121,300 physicians by 2030. 

The effect of that shortage is but one factor behind growing demand for NPs and PAs, who are sometimes referred to as alternate prescribers due to their prescriptive abilities in all 50 states. 

The population of NPs has almost doubled in size over the last decade to over 248,000, from 120,000 in 2007, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports, with 78% of them providing primary care. Additionally, over 120,000 PAs are practicing in the U.S. today, with about one-third of them delivering primary care. 

Ultimately, there's no question that physicians are still at the core of healthcare. However, the demand for NPs and PAs is only expected to increase further, as insurers and retailers deem them a critical part of another of healthcare's newest trends: value-based care, which allows patients to receive upfront and, often times, more inexpensive, medical care. 

Recently, value-based care has become more of a staple than a trend in healthcare services. For instance, CVS is buying Aetna for $69 billion, and has said that its 1,100 retail healthcare MinuteClinics, which are staffed by NPs, will be even more crucial to the 20+ million Aetna members, noted Forbes.

CVS Health isn't the only provider aligning with insurers and retailers to offer community based care, either. Walgreens is working with UnitedHealth's Optum to attach urgent care centers next to pharmacies, and Walmart and Humana are discussing following the lead of these other pharmacies. Thus, with more and more retail healthcare locations cropping up comes an increased demand for NPs and PAs to staff them.

Here are four other interesting trends for pharma marketers from the MerrittHawkins report: 

1. The site of care is changing to meet consumer demand for convenience. Urgent care clinics and retail care centers located in pharmacies are physicians' most sought after recruitment setting. The report shows a 23% year-over-year increase from 2017 to 2018 of searches for physicians who practice in “convenient care” locations. 

2. Psychiatrists ranked second on the list of the most requested recruiting assignments, which reflects the shortage of mental health care providers across the country. This report is not the only one finding a shortage of psychiatrists. The National Council of Behavioral Health (NCBH) released a report in March 2017 pointing to an alarming national shortage of psychiatrists, with 77% of U.S. counties reporting a severe psychiatrist deficit.

Physicians have been, in some areas, trying to compensate for this shortage, though many lack the training to provide care for more severe cases of mental illness. 

3. The demand for medical specialists appears to be increasing, with AAMC projecting a shortage of over 72,000 of them. MerrittHawkins reports three out of four of search assignments conducted are now for specialists. 

4. With a multitude of healthcare challenges looming in the future, training too few physicians has more realistic risks than not training enough. The study gives this piece of advice, then proceeds to run through mostly negative statistics associated with obesity, drug overdoses, suicide, Alzheimer's, and cancer.

This section of the report serves as a reminder that even as family doctors and psychiatrists are becoming harder to recruit, the need for HCPs is only increasing further. Indeed, the rise of NPs and PAs fills some of the gaps, but does not completely cancel them out.

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