The Role of Full Practice Authority for Nurses in Addressing Healthcare Disparities

Let’s start by getting a handle on what we mean by healthcare disparities. It’s when some groups of people have better access to healthcare and better health outcomes than others. It’s a big issue that’s been around for a long time. The KFF, in its detailed report on healthcare disparity, noted that black people were 1.9 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than white people, while for native Americans, it was 2.4 times.

There are a variety of reasons that contribute to this, from access to healthcare to living conditions or affordable healthy food options. But the good news is it is an issue that can be tackled through government intervention, civil efforts, and increasing awareness. One of the solutions includes employing nurses with full practice authority.

But what is it, and how will it help? We will get to that in a minute, but first, let us lay the groundwork for that discussion.

Healthcare Disparity & Access To Care

It’s no secret that access to healthcare is a major issue when it comes to healthcare disparities. When certain communities have limited access to healthcare services, they are more likely to experience poor health outcomes. And unfortunately, marginalized communities often have a hard time accessing the care they need.

But here’s where full practice authority for nurses comes in. By giving nurses the ability to provide a wider range of services, they can help to fill in some of the gaps in care. This can include things like routine check-ups, diagnosing and treating common illnesses, and providing education on preventative care. By doing so, nurses can help to improve access to care for those who need it most and help to reduce healthcare disparities.

The Impact of Full Authority for Nurses

We know that marginalized communities, such as low-income communities, communities of color, and rural communities, often have a harder time accessing healthcare. This is where full practice authority for nurses can make a real difference. When nurses are able to provide a wider range of services, they can help to improve access to care for these communities.

A bit of clarification before we move forward. A nurse with full practice authority or a nurse practitioner (NP) is not the same as a regular nurse. The American Association for Nurse Practitioners writes that to become an NP, one must hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, be a registered nurse, complete an NP-focused master or doctoral program and pass a national licensing exam.

Therefore, NPs are able to work autonomously and make decisions based on their expertise and the specific needs of their patients. This is especially important for marginalized communities because nurses are more likely to understand and be sensitive to their unique needs.

For instance, an NP working in a rural area can increase access to primary care for the people living there by providing preventive and primary care services and by addressing the social determinants of health that limit access to healthcare. Also, NPs are able to provide care that is culturally and linguistically appropriate, which is vital for communities of color and immigrant communities.

Addressing Social Determinants of Health

We all know that healthcare is about more than just treating illnesses. It’s also about addressing the underlying causes of poor health. This is where social determinants of health come into play. Things like poverty, racism, and lack of education can all have a huge impact on a person’s health. And for marginalized populations, these social determinants of health are often at the root of healthcare disparities.

For example, the White House writes in its blog about how the zoning commission in St. Louis systematically granted black neighborhoods industrial zoning after 1919 in an attempt to drive out or harass the black population. It is safe to say, based on other similar cases, that this multiple-generation-spanning exposure to pollution has definitely had a significant impact on the health of the people living there.

Much like physicians, NPs can also identify these underlying social causes that contribute to the long-term health and well-being of a population. If we want to eliminate healthcare disparity in the long run, we have to identify and fix these underlying issues now. Becoming an NP is easier than becoming a doctor, but their contribution to this fight is also beyond valuation.

Challenges and barriers to implementing full practice authority

Making a real impact on healthcare disparities is not going to be easy, and there will be challenges and barriers to overcome. One of the biggest challenges is resistance from other healthcare providers. Some may see NPs as a threat to their own practice. Additionally, there may be a lack of reimbursement for services provided by NPs, as Medscape reports NPs only receive 85% of the reimbursement received by a physician.

It’s important to acknowledge that these challenges exist and that they need to be addressed in order to make full practice authority a reality for NPs working with marginalized communities. Only by working together and finding solutions can we hope to truly reduce healthcare disparities and improve outcomes for marginalized populations.

NPs can address not only the physical symptoms but also the social determinants of health that contribute to healthcare disparities. By working together with other healthcare providers, policymakers, and community leaders, we can find solutions to the challenges that arise and make full practice authority a reality for NPs working with marginalized communities. This will ultimately improve health outcomes and reduce healthcare disparities for marginalized populations.